#1 STORY OF 2010
The Battle of Bear Creek Tops the News in 2010
by Watch Staff
Dec 29, 2010 | 5487 views | 9 9 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Image 1 / 2
DEEP AND DANGEROUS – A skier dropped into Deep and Dangerous from Delta Bowl in early 2010. The popular off-piste ski terrain has now been closed by the US Forest Service. (Photo by Brett Schreckengost)
Montrose-based developer Tom Chapman has worked out a pretty good gambit.

He buys land surrounded by public lands, special places cherished by conservationists and outdoor recreationalists, and then closes it or threatens to develop it.

Thus, with the unwilling cooperation of the media – we who are helpless to report such dramatic news – Chapman inflames the sensibilities of a highly passionate group of people, using their very fury to try to force the purchase of his inholding at the highest price.

All of this in the name of defending private property rights, a purportedly principled purpose. Never mind that the property in question – generally an obsolete mining claim acquired over a century ago for an altogether different purpose – represents a loophole in the strategy whereby the public has attempted to manage precious land for the greater good.

Chapman has surely found a soft spot now, in what has often been said to be Telluride’s cathedral, Bear Creek.

Late this year, Chapman announced he had acquired mining claims in Bear Creek, asserting it would be impossible for hikers to ascend or skiers to descend without trespassing, effectively threatening to close one of the most cherished places in the western San Juans.

Even before Chapman’s entrance from stage right, the drama of Bear Creek was rich with conflict and a major story in the Western San Juans. Would this sacred place remain a preserve for backcountry skiers? Or would the Telluride Ski and Golf Co. attempt to gain approval for a lift there? And if one lift was permitted, would others follow? Would lifts despoil the cathedral? Or make it more accessible for more people’s worship?

Chapman dealt a blow to backcountry enthusiasts and the Telluride Ski and Golf Co., after his development firm purchased mining claims in Bear Creek that eventually caused the closure of three U.S. Forest Service backcountry access points along Gold Hill Ridge, as well as putting an end to Telski guided tours of Bear Creek.

On March 26, The Gold Hill Development Company, in which Chapman is a partner, purchased the Modena, Gertrude and Little Bessie mining claims for a price of $246,000.

“GHDC intends to enforce its right to exclude people from its private property by using Colorado trespass law if necessary,” stated a press release issued by Chapman at the time.”

The purchase came just after the U.S. Forest Service issued Telski a one year permit that allows guides to take clients into the public lands of Bear Creek through the backcountry access gates.

While Chapman didn’t come out and say it, his firm’s purchase looked to be in line with his modus operandi, which is to buy private in-holdings surrounded by or adjacent to public land, and then threatening to develop them in order to force lucrative land trades with the federal government.

For example, in 1984, while acting as a real estate agent for a rancher, Chapman brought a bulldozer into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument to start building infrastructure for a 132-home subdivision, according to The Denver Post.
The move eventually saw the National Park Service buy the 4,200-acre ranch at $510 an acre, although it had been appraised at $200 an acre.
In the early 1990s he began building a luxury log cabin on 240 acres in the West Elk Wilderness near Paonia that he purchased for $960,000, only stopping after negotiating a land trade with Forest Service in which he got 105 acres near Telluride, which he then sold for more than $4 million.

Just after the CHDC purchase, Telski purchased the Dandy Lode mining claim in Upper Bear Creek for $24,700 in a deal that was interpreted by many as the next step in the ski area’s expansion into Bear Creek.

With Teski inching closer to developing a new master plan, the ski area issued a survey in October that effectively asked visitors to give a thumbs up or thumbs down on expansion into Bear Creek’s Delta Bowl, a move that would include a new fixed cable chairlift. Approximately 84 percent of those who participated in the survey gave a thumbs up to the expansion.

Chapman, who often claims his side of the story is never told, gave a lengthy interview to The Watch in October stating that the expansion described in the survey would violate the private property rights of landholders in Bear Creek.

“The landowners have every right to sit here and complain about this,” Chapman said.

“The town says it’s not liable. The county says it’s not liable. It’s a Forest Service problem. You think anyone can sue the Forest Service? No. So who do you think gets sued here? First it will be the landowner anywhere near the accidental death site. So will Telski. They are kidding themselves if they don’t believe they will be held liable.”

Chapman then claimed that GHDC plans to reopen the various mines on its parcels as well as open an eco-tourism facility on the Modena Parcel. He also said that he plans to enter the courtroom to prove his firm has a superior right to use the Gold Hill Road, which crosses the ski area, to his claims. He even threatened to plow the road during the ski season.

Chapman’s victory came in early December when U.S. Forest Service officials removed the three backcountry access points along the Gold Hill Ridge that generally cause trespass across private property. The closure of the gates also meant the end of Telski’s guided tours of Bear Creek.

“We respect the Forest Service’s decision,” said Telski CEO Dave Riley. “Obviously this was driven by private landowners, primarily Tom Chapman, because this wasn’t an issue until he purchased the property.”
“Since we’ve withdrawn our permit for guiding we’re no longer in the business of managing anything back there, but I’m sure a lot of people are going to be very disappointed, and I doubt that this conversation is over; I don’t think this solves anything.”

Comments-icon Post a Comment
January 13, 2011
RFP: glad to know you made it back from the fight you found yourself in the middle of! Your voice & perspective are much appreciated ... even moreso given that you fought to protect your rights and those of others.

While "Kings & Queens" might be a thing of the past (in much of the world), the transition has been a bit rocky & there are still vacuums which have been left over as residual spaces ... often times being exploited via from within the system (which is still in transition, IMHO).

In any case, I'm certainly with you re: letting the light shine on the situation. Let the people be informed & allow the chips to fall where they may.
January 11, 2011
Good Morning Mr. Matthew and Mr. Face

There are many reasons to cheer for Telluride.

One of them is the incredible resources that TSG has put on the hill this year in snow making! They opened hills and lifts way before natural snow allowed; for this they should be commended.


There is never a reason to not publicly debate public actions that affect the public.

In the first place, men of brave heart rose up against a king and started this great country 230 years ago. We owe them a debt for their bravery. Since then men, me included, have fought the ongoing battle to silence voice and thought, some giving their lives. These fights have been fought in the courts, in the streets and on the battlefield. My personal fight was in a jungle a long time ago and my fight was ended by the combined voices of men and women who took to the street here in the US and caused public opinion to turn. I owe them my life.

In a different sense, not sweeping public actions under the table (for marketing reasons), allows us (the public) to evaluate the results of public activity.

Thus, we should all look into how Bear Creek is no longer available for guided skiing, no longer available for a quick high adventure ski, no longer available to us, the public. We sit down at Elk Pizza and see that TSG owns land they can not use (in Bear Creek for the lift base), we have Chapman talking about opening up a mine and an eco tourism center all in the same breath, we have a great Powder article/marketing pr piece all torn to bits because we cant ski BC now, we have people toeing up from Ophir...all of this is in the public realm and should be discussed freely and with out regard that the king will retaliate.

Because in this country the King is the people and we should never be silenced.

That is the essence of the first amendment.


Let Freedom Ring. Let the Sun Shine in! No Secrets!

January 11, 2011
Matthew4u: while you are certainly polite, I take great issue with your assertion that speaking "negatively" about Telluride is a "no-no". I'm sorry, we all don't exist as marketing pawns or mouthpieces.

This place is SO SPECIAL that I'd gladly give up all that I "have" if the NPS opted to take over the region via eminent domain and this place became "Telluride National Park" if it meant a halt to the industrialization of areas which have no business being trampled on in such a manner.

Count me as one who'd prefer to have proverbial bullet hole in my foot & a half empty belly if it meant preserving whats left of this place!

January 11, 2011
Mr. Responsible is correct, and Dave tried to buy the property; although it all happened before he arrived on the scene; kindly remember, Dave has only been at the helm for only a few years; so, get your facts straight, before you make accusations; and most importantly, do not trash T Ride on the Internet, as, you are shooting yourself in the foot financially, if you do; so please do not post here if you are smoking some of those funny cigarettes; and, please so not post here as an alternative to hiring a psychotherapist - as, it hurts everyone in T Tride, and it hurts the small business people who advertise here, and are trying to make a living.
December 31, 2010
Bear Creek is lost. See thats the point. Chapman OWN's the property not the public. He did develop in the Black Canyon. We have been playing with the Bear Creek toy for so long we forget it wasnt ours to begin with. So let's all throw our tantrums now. "Invoke eminent domain!" "Drum support from uber rich part timers who have never skied BC to give us money "Save BC!" We can throw a party and raise money for the fight or just get drunk and tell stories. We can blame Chapman, The forest service, or consider the time frame. Maybe the protest should have been stronger when Riley decided to profit from our favorite toy. Happy New Year Dave. Your Awesome. I can't wait to see you at the save bear creek blow out next year.
December 30, 2010
For my part I think the real crime is that the public can not access its own land due in part to greed on both sides of the land dispute.

One wanted to profit from control of the land and the other wants the same..to profit from control of the land.

Telski does some great things-this year really hustling at night to make snow and open terrain as we wait for snow..but the Bear Creek Boondoggle is an example of poor strategic planning that resulted in the rightful owners being excluded from their own land....

Mr. Face-you are right on about the high cost of the Za.....and I agree..spread the word..

December 30, 2010
No way is bear creek lost

Chapman will never develop this just like he never developed Black Canyon or the Elk Wilderness property but will hold up for a King's ransom

We have proven Eminent domain use can be expanded as the condemnation of the valley has shown.

The government appraisal process is flawed. we the public have paid too much to take back our lands from the Chapmans of the world who have exploited the terrible 1872 mining law to the detriment of all.

I shake my head on the land trades the government has made which make no sense. If the Alta lakes property was owned by private owner, they would look at the Elk wilderness trade as laughable.

The government needs to change the guidelines of their appraisers to properly reflect true market valus

In regards to the Bear creek property, condemn it and give Chapman what he paid for it and not a penny more

The forest service and the BLM appr
December 30, 2010
I'm still wondering how this could be considered a "battle" if we're still officially in the "FLOATING" sage?!?

However, we all know the acceleration from FLOATING -> expansion APPROVAL goes from zero to 60 in less than half a second. The caveat to this is how we'll hear "how much time was spent planning, gathering input, blah blah blah".

and did I mention, "BLAH BLAH BLAH"

I'm personally not one to ever say "shame on _____" .... it's just not for me to judge. Having said that, I wouldn't mind the rubber gloves and microscopes being brought out to allow the public better look @ the correspondence between Schutza's office & Telski. I'm curious about the status of the SMA freedom of information act request?!?

I'm not holding my breath on lower prices RFP, it's currently just off the hook ($7 tax for a slice of pepperoni pizz?!?!!!!!) & I let EVERY visitor I ride the lifts with know my feelings on the matter.

The war has just begun on this front, I personally will be engaging in any and all legitimate negative advertisement regarding Telluride if the Bear Creek expansion proceeds!
December 30, 2010
This is a classic case of brain and brawn.

Unfortunately for the back country skiers and the rest of the public all the brain and brawn was on Chapman's side.

Let's count the ways.

Using public news stories he found an undervalued opportunity in Bear Creek. Anyone who could read or think knew TSG was heading into BC..first the avalanche studies, then the no public input guiding business on public land...so we know the man can read...

Then using brawn or the power of the law he turned the plans of the largest company in these parts upside down...

Of course, Schutza had a big part in this..not one time did she seek public input...nope..just the players...except for the one she was put into the position to represent...the public who owns the land...Shame on her.

Now, we will have to get back to value centered marketing..lower prices, bring more people in,develop the services we need...Bear Creek seems to be lost ..