Developer Plans Mansion on Black Canyon’s Highest Point
by Beverly Corbell
Apr 15, 2010 | 5100 views | 16 16 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MANSIONS IN THE SKY — An aerial photo shows the location of Casa Baranca I, a 4,750-square-foot luxury home built by real estate broker Tom Chapman on his 112 acres of private land located within the boundaries of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Chapman plans to build another home, the 25,000-square-foot Casa Barranca II, to be built on Signal Hill, the highest point in the park, and will be highly visible to park visitors. (Photo courtesy of Tom Chapman and <a href=""></a>.)
MANSIONS IN THE SKY — An aerial photo shows the location of Casa Baranca I, a 4,750-square-foot luxury home built by real estate broker Tom Chapman on his 112 acres of private land located within the boundaries of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Chapman plans to build another home, the 25,000-square-foot Casa Barranca II, to be built on Signal Hill, the highest point in the park, and will be highly visible to park visitors. (Photo courtesy of Tom Chapman and
MONTROSE – If real estate broker and developer Tom Chapman has his way, the highest point in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park will be dominated by a 25,000-square-foot mansion he plans to build there.

Chapman has already built one home in the park, a one-story 4,750-square-foot luxury home overlooking the canyon, complete with its own helicopter. But the structure is unobtrusive and not readily visible to park visitors.

The new larger home, called Casa Barranca II, will be built on Signal Hill, Chapman said, the highest point in the park, which promises to dominate the landscape.

Chapman’s website,, uses the location as Casa Barranca II’s selling point. It states, in part, “It will be positioned high astride Signal Hill, the highest point in the park – dominating over the entire 30,000 acre Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.”

Chapman specializes in acquiring inholdings – private lands surrounded by public lands – and has been successful at forcing public land managers to either buy him out at higher prices or trade with him for other inholdings, from which he has made considerable profit.

As one example, in the early 1990s Chapman started construction on a luxury log cabin in the West Elk Wilderness near Paonia. He originally purchased the 240-acre parcel for $960,000. He stopped construction of the cabin after negotiating a land trade with the Forest Service for 105 acres near Telluride. He later sold that property for more than $4 million.

Chapman’s recent purchase of mining claims in Telluride’s Upper Bear Creek Basin has drawn concerns there again. A press release from his Gold Hill Development Company states: “GHDC has full cause to exclude all parties from its private lands for reasons of liability for injury and/or accidental death.” A popular destination for backcountry skiers and hikers, Bear Creek’s access is vital. (See "Developer’s Intention for Bear Creek Claims Unknown” at

Chapman’s dealings over the years have earned him notoriety, with the Denver Post referring to him as “the buzzard of Colorado’s backcountry” and The Economist calling him “a modern hustler of the west.”

Park officials are concerned about Chapman’s plans to build a hilltop mansion that dominates Black Canyon National Park, says Curecanti National Recreation Area Management Assistant Dave Roberts, but there’s not much they can do about it.

“I would think it would be a blight and very noticeable to visitors, but there’s nothing we can do about it,” Roberts said, adding that he wishes Montrose County would take a stronger stand about development on private land within the national park.

“I’m disappointed the county has not installed stricter land use regulations within the park, since any private land is developed under county standards,” he said.

According to Montrose County Planning Director Steve White, the county hopes to adopt its new Master Plan next week, but it only calls for setting up 35-acre minimum parcels on private land within the park and would not affect plans for Chapman’s 25,000-square-foot house.

“At this point we have not contemplated any specific regulations; it hasn’t been talked about in any kind of detail,” White said.

Reid Haughey, president of the Wilderness Land Trust, said Chapman has been very successful in manipulating public land stewards.

“He’s made quite a career out of acquiring these inholdings and then putting pressure on public agencies to buy them under stressed circumstances, and it speaks to the need for a federal land acquisition program, not to create new areas but to complete the protection that everyone has agreed on,” he said.

But Chapman said he’s just doing business, and that in most cases, he was the broker, not the owner, or at most a minority owner in the majority of the land deals.

"I'm a private property advocate and a capitalist, for which I would never apologize,” Chapman said. “My job is to represent landowners whose Fifth Amendment private property rights have been abused by vote-seeking politicians, over-zealous regulators, and an environmental community that consistently shows little to no respect for private property rights."

The “bad press” he’s received over his dealings also doesn’t bother Chapman.

“John Wooden once said people should be more concerned about character than reputation,” he said. “That’s merely what somebody thinks you are.”
Comments-icon Post a Comment
April 20, 2010
Call his hand. Let him build. It's only a ploy just like his other shenanigans. When it's all over he is out a lot more of his own money than he really wants to spend.
I.M. Flash II
April 19, 2010
Let him build it. Anyone who owns a 25,000sf home in the middle of a national park is never going to be there anyway.
April 19, 2010
some people need really big houses (and bigger trucks) to make them feel better about getting the short end of the stick when God was passing out genitalia. No pun intended.
April 18, 2010
No one needs a house that big--in fact they've become gouche. Just ask the realtors around here--they can't unload them.
April 18, 2010
Can someone explain to me why you would actually NEED a house that big?
in a free market
April 15, 2010
economy where the land was stolen from the Indians, white man fetishizes private property. Wait a sec; since the land was stolen in the first place, how could it be part of the free market? Oh and much the land was worked by slaves. And most large corporations are the beneficiaries of large subsidies (ranching, mining, farms, gas, oil) A free market economy sounds like a good idea. We should try it sometime.
April 15, 2010
Well if it is his land, leave him alone. It is a free market economy, you can buy it and donate to the public if you like, but why force him to do so! I have land in bear creek that people seem to think is public lands...I have considered closing it too, shuttting off the Wasatch trail "just to make a point" because so many other people have tried to tell us what we can do with our land.
american psycho
April 15, 2010
Hey "It's About Time!",

Are you an American? Then the BLM and the USFS are funded by your tay dollars, and are essentially belong to US citizens. So when you say stick it to them you're sitcking it to yourself. Funny how that works. Hope you're gaining please from all the self-sticking!

Chapman has a successful business model, for sure, but the ethics of a water rat.

I'd sure hate to see those houses go up in flames...
Let me help you
April 14, 2010

In both cases, the land is not developed. In the Chapman case, the public pays Chapman to not develop the land by its contribution of other land.

In the VF case, the public pays for the land (and prevents its development by Blue) by taxing groceries and subsidizing (by tax writeoff) contributions...and it is not developed.

Except in the VF case, try walking your dog (no!), hiking on the groomed ski trail (definitely no!) or sighting an elk in the winter (long gone)!

In both cases, the public paid for the land is a right wing zealot and the other a bunch of leftist Triders who cant see the forest through their birkenstocks.
No, it was publicly
April 14, 2010
funded under a sham propaganda theme "Wild and Free Forever" and now it has been taken over by local special interests.

The Nordic Bunch, principally in the winter. Regardless, the elk and the bear have about as much protection now as they would have had under Neal Blue-ie they are gone.

The difference is the public tax...

So, check again. Open your eyes.
private ski park?
April 14, 2010
Last time I checked the Valley Floor was public....
To "Yeah"
April 14, 2010
Can you see that both left and right co-opt private property for their own profit. Chapman to be greedy and the VF bunch to be greedy-ie their own private ski park.

Both sides make the public pay for their lust-the VF bunch with taxes and Chapman through land exchanges and the like.

They have the same consequence...both sides end up with the property being left alone but one side "feels" better. Feelings are everything to you, aren't they?

Just sayin..
April 14, 2010
Three cheers for private property and destroying the environment as soon as possible. Hope Chapman and Neal Blue always win. Develop and bomb the crap out of the world. Heaven is better and you can bet you won't see any liberals there.
Hey Now. No
April 14, 2010
criticizing us Liberals.

When we condemned the Valley Floor it was only for your benefit. Now we are raising more than 30 million dollars when you choose to come to Telluride -when you buy a burger or a beer you are helping us liberals out!

Under the slogan, Wild and Free Forever, we took away private land, made you pay for it, and now us in the Nordic Club get exclusive use to plow it down all winter and XC ski! Thanks!

After all, Neal Blue is a defense contractor!

We own it thanks to you and we kicked out the wildlife out in favor of XC skiing.
It's About Time!
April 14, 2010
Kuddos to Chapman! For years and years and years, liberal land grabbers have done nothing but seize private land from American Citizens to force a non-inclusive and non-use doctrine. I for one applaud his efforts and hope he sticks it to the BLM and USFS good!
April 14, 2010
Chapman seems to be all about the money. Too bad he isn't like Rockefeller when he donated most of his land to create Teton National Park.