After spending years of accumulating over 1,100 acres of mining claims in the Ophir Valley I have decided it is time to transfer the land to the Forest Service. The project was started back in the 1980s when I was offered the actual waterfall property in Waterfall Canyon. This was just too beautiful for a Minnesota guy to resist and I started what was to become a mission to collect all remaining claims in the Ophir Valley. The idea of preserving access and the land was there from the beginning. I had intended to do land trades with the Forest Service for land they wanted to dispose of and leave the Ophir Valley with homes only to be built in the town. As time went by and the acres accumulated it became obvious that there was too much land to trade. The Trust for Public Land (TPL) came along and solved the problem by offering to facilitate the transfer to the Forest Service through a donation sale.
On Monday (6/22/09) all the home sites were transferred to TPL. They will soon transfer them into U.S. Forest Service ownership. Around fifty homes could have been built on the widely scattered property and as of today there is only one home built on a claim that I was not able to purchase from the owner. A 1.6 million dollar donation to TPL was also part of the sale, as well as deep discounts on the 35-acre lot values. TPL will use this money to pursue further land preservation projects.
No homes on the high roads was my main goal, as home owners build in any numbers they tend to unite and organize to keep others away from their back yard and in this case the back yard is our national forest. My parents and I had been jeeping and dirt biking the San Juan Triangle since the seventies and came to realize that the real national treasure here is not only the majestic beauty of the mountains but the amazing roads that were chiseled in to the granite to get to the gold and silver mines. This is one of the only places you can drive or ride back in history to towns, railroads, mines, and mill buildings at the very roof of our country. You can eat breakfast in Ouray and then drive Tom Boy Road (13,600 ft.) higher than you are allowed to fly a plane with out oxygen (12,500 ft.) over to Telluride for lunch. These roads are really what I am trying to save.
I have gathered other like-minded people that also enjoy using these unique trails and we formed an organization called PAPA (Public Access Preservation Association). Through this land transfer to the public and other projects, we are working hard to assure that the historical mining, logging and ranching roads of the west are preserved and kept open for the people that either can’t or choose not to only hike or walk into the public back country. Some are too old, out of shape, disabled or simply do not have the time, gear or knowledge to climb miles back into the mountains but this is their land also and there should be limited access for all. And of course just riding these roads for adventure and challenge is great fun. So many times I have heard motorized vehicle riders characterized as uncaring slobs that just want to rip everything up and are unconcerned with the environment. If I had not come to Ouray to jeep and ride, the Ophir valley would by now have homes, dogs, fences and driveways in Swamp Canyon, Water Fall Canyon, Iron Springs and the hill sides above town. Through our sister organizations COHVO (Colorado Off Highway Vehicle Collation) and Blue Ribbon Coalition many trails, roads and recreation areas are maintained, signed and mapped for all users at no cost to the public. Our members also conduct safety, low noise and “Stay The Trail” campaigns. Millions of dollars in OHV license fees are collected each year, these fees go toward grooming cross-country ski and snowmobile trails, single tracks and public road maintenance. There are always a few troublemakers but, most of us are working hard to share our public lands respectfully.
I would like to thank Senators Salazar, Allard, Udall and Bennet, Representative Salazar, TPL, the U.S. Forest Service, San Miguel County, the Town of Ophir, Grass Roots volunteers, and all the others that helped in the land/road preservation effort. I would especially like to thank my parents Ed and Flo Pauls that stuck with me and financed a good portion of the acquisitions when I was short. A dedication party will be given by PAPA in late July, the exact date is to be announced. Next time you are on a mine road or some trail think not only of the work by the people that built the route generations ago but also of the efforts of the people who fight to keep it open, maintained and available for you to enjoy. Please do what you can to help keep these national treasures open for all to travel. For more preservation info please check out our website at www.papatelluride.org.