TELLURIDE – Tom Chapman, a real estate speculator notorious for his involvement in controversial land trades with the federal government, has purchased mining claims in the Upper Bear Creek Basin, closing public access to parts of popular backcountry ski and hiking routes, effective immediately.
The Gold Hill Development Company in which Chapman is a partner, purchased three contiguous claims, the Modena, Gertrude and Little Bessie Lodes that run west from Delta Bowl, as well as a half interest in the separate Euclid Avenue Lode, last Friday, March 26, for $246,000, according to a public records search.
“GHDC intends to enforce its right to exclude people from its private property by using Colorado trespass law if necessary,” states a press release hand-delivered to The Watch by Chapman on the afternoon of Thursday, April 1.
The action affects ski routes including “Deep and Dangerous” and “Graveyard,” that travel through the GHDC claims.
“In a basin widely known and recognized for hazardous and dangerous skiing, with several recorded avalanche deaths, GHDC has full cause to exclude all parties from its private lands for reasons of liability for injury and/or accidental death,” the press release reads.
For “privacy and safety reasons” access to the claims will also be closed during the summer, affecting hiking on the Wasatch and East Fork of Bear Creek trails.
The no trespass closure also applies to commercial permit holders authorized to operate on U.S. Forest Service land in Upper Bear Creek, including the Telluride Ski and Golf Co., which recently secured a controversial permit to operate guided ski and snowboard tours in the drainage.
“I’m still trying to digest this thing that’s in front of us,” said Telski Chief Executive Officer Dave Riley, who said he had not yet learned of the transaction when The Watch reached him.
Still, Riley’s initial reaction was that it would have little effect on its guided trips.
“We can still access lots of other terrain,” he said.
As for how GHDC will actually enforce its no trespass policy is another issue.
“Unless they post somebody up there I don’t know how they’re going to stop the public,” Riley said.
Asked whether GHDC could indeed stop the public from using portions of the long established hiking trails and routes that enter its private property, USFS Norwood District Ranger Judy Schutza suggested it could.
“[GHDC has] legal rights and we do not, as the Forest Service, have a right of way or easement through that property,” she said.
She added that the situation is similar to when landowner Rusty Nichols closed his private lands in and adjacent to Silver Pick Basin to public access. This action closed a segment of the Silver Pick Trail, a route that many climbers used to access the Lizard Head Wilderness.
The southwest ridge of Wilson Peak, the traditional approach to the popular 14,000-foot-peak, was also impacted by the private land closure.
No one The Watch spoke with yet knows what Chapman and GHDC intend to do with the property, but he is notorious for beginning to build a luxury log cabin on a pristine in-holding in the West Elk Wilderness near Paonia that he stopped only after negotiating a land trade with Forest Service in which he got 105 acres near Telluride.
Neither Chapman nor his GHDC partner, Ronald Curry, immediately returned phone calls.
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