Field of Dreams
by Seth Cagin
Feb 28, 2009 | 1999 views | 10 10 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Illustration by bzKondracki
Illustration by bzKondracki

The Valley Floor was never merely a piece of land. It was never real estate to be bought or sold, or developed or preserved. It has long been all of that and much more: a potent symbol.

A flat expanse set among mountains, at the entrance to a historic town and at the base of a ski resort, the Valley Floor has been a field of dreams upon which various parties have inscribed their own idea of what Telluride was, is and should be. And so it was probably inevitable that this singular place is still being fought over, even now that it’s owned by the town. It was never just the uses that might occur on the Valley Floor that inspired both fear and excitement, but also its secret meanings. Now that the property is publicly owned, the battles over this sanctified land could be even more vicious and even more freighted with mysterious purpose than they were before.

Before, the battle lines were relatively easy to draw. On the one side there was Neal Blue, easily caricatured as a ruthless capitalist, for whom the Valley Floor was a symbol of private property. It seemed as if, to Blue, the purpose in the War for the Floor was always to assert the primacy of property rights, and particularly since his antagonists were the citizens of Telluride, equally easy to caricature – from Blue’s perspective – as idealistic hippies, or leftists, who did not respect private property rights.

We Telluride leftists were able to unite in opposition to Blue because even though we had a variety of our own odd reasons to want to seize the land, we were able to overlook them for as long as we had Blue as a shared antagonist. He just played the part so darned well!

Back in the early phases of the War for the Floor, some of us dared to imagine that the Valley Floor might be all things: we could acquire all of Blue’s holdings west of town, not just the acreage south of the highway, and get land for housing, recreation, community projects, and for river restoration and open space. But that was not to be. Another faction whose priority concern was open space reeled the goals back to open space only, on the south side only. But even ruling out the possibility of housing or a school site, or a rec center or any other kind of “development” on the Valley Floor left plenty to fight about.

As we now see.

And how fitting it is that we now have the dog contingent battling the defenders of wildlife versus the Nordic skiers. Back when they were all united in their shared objective of preventing houses or any other kind of construction on the Valley Floor, the most passionate Valley Floor preservationists didn’t anticipate this. But of course, their separate dreams are largely incompatible.

My own dream of holistic planning for the Valley Floor having long since been shattered, I have no dog in this fight. My dog is a West Highland Terrier who gets plenty of exercise walking from home to office and back. I’m not a Nordic skier. And I long ago rejected the idea that the Valley Floor is important for environmental reasons, not compared to real environmental issues like global warming and species extinction. I wanted to see the bulk of the Valley Floor preserved primarily to prevent sprawl and overdevelopment, and because I strongly support open space and because I thought we did need some of it for housing and other public uses. But the way we went about it we are still at risk of sprawl and overdevelopment, on the north side of the highway and at Society Turn, and we still don’t have land for housing, school expansion or even playing fields.

Basically, from my perspective, we spent our $50 million and failed to meet my primary objectives, except, possibly, my hope for river restoration, which will come, if at all, only at a cost of millions more.

Others had other priorities and now they are duking it out. To some, taking over 600 acres out of possible development helps keep Telluride small, which we might all agree is a good thing; since we haven’t come close to solving the housing problem, declaring the Valley Floor off-limits also helps keep Telluride elite, which many of us find obnoxious. To others, the historic preservationists, Telluride’s boundaries have been defended. A bunch of people imagined a day when they would run their dogs on the Valley Floor; others foresaw a pristine Nordic trail, unsullied by dog crap. Some love the prairie dogs; others fear that prairie dogs transmit bubonic plague. Still others dream of the river functioning as it once did, meandering and flooding the valley with beaver ponds. But, then, where will the skiers ski? Where will the dogs run? And what about the elk herd?

To each, his or her own $50 million public paradise.

Does the Valley Floor today offer evidence that as a community we drew the line and defended our values against rampant development and in support of the environment, outdoor recreation and dogs free to run, even if some of those values will have to give?

Or is it something closer to a symbol of idealism gone off the deep end and the elitism of a town without affordable housing and no economic common sense? In short, a symbol of our vanity.

The land itself, as beautiful as it is, is impassive. It says nothing at all. The values we ascribe to it are all ours.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
March 02, 2009
if this weather keeps up the grooming debate will be moot
to Jimmy A:
March 02, 2009
Aside from whether nordic track should be set on the vf, to intimate that there are few groomed nordic tracks in Sweden is akin to saying there aren't really football fields in towns in the Midwest. In Sweden, as in all Scandinavia, nordic is the national sport.

I suggest if you want anyone to take anything you say seriously, you and your fictional friend Sven should do your research a bit more carefully.

well said greg
March 02, 2009
But it's so much more fun with drama drama drama, isn't it?
March 02, 2009
"Battling", "duking it out", etc. Why do we like to turn every public policy debate into a "war" even if it isn't? Why do many or all of us fall into this trap?

Right now, we are having a community discussion, albeit lightly attended, on the management of the Valley Floor. Sure there are competing interests, sure there are strongly held positions. Sure much of the discussion is subjective and lacks a consistent methodology but what do you expect here?

We aren't having a battle nor are we duking it out. The alternatives aren't pristine nordic trails v. dog crap everywhere. We're sorting through competing uses and trying to find a path that accomodates those uses and balances them against the needs of the Valley Floor environment. That's what the process is for and while it could work better it is functioning generally as it should.

Will I get to walk the Valley Floor in a tightly bounded set of corridors with my dog? I don't know yet but I do know I get a chance to make my case as are others for their uses in this discussion. As Gary Hickcox said at the last Open Space meeting it will all be a series of compromises, as it should be. To jump right to characterizing things as "battles" and "wars" is to fall prey to the same divisiveness and extremism that bedevils this community so frequently and hampers true discussion of compromises that will be needed.
Mark T.
March 02, 2009
Nice revisionist history, Jimmy. Too bad most of it's a fantasy. And by the way, I'll take a tangible pristine valley floor over any of the fantasy infrastructure improvements you're dreaming about. But that's just my humble opinion. By the way, I'm sure Neal Blue would have gladly housed all those people under tarps and those driving to Norwood. After all, he did agree to 15 housing units on the steepest, shadiest north side of his property in exchange for two million sq. ft. of new luxury development. I'm sure he would have come around, though, and actually given something to the community--just like George W. was our greatest president ever.
March 02, 2009
Very well put Seth, you are right on.

Addressing the comment below regarding the "heavy lifting done" as considered by "most of us who worked so hard for the current outcome." Well, at what cost? The "heavy lifting" has now caused how many financial, political and emotional injuries? What good is heavy lifting if you spill the contents of the box you lifted? Spill it all over the VF and the community with no regard for the true consequences?

Shouldn't issues of suitable affordable housing be included in any heavy lifting that occurs? Shouldn't issues of the towns aging infrastructure be included in any heavy lifting that occurs? Shouldn't the physical condition and safety of the roadway which passes directly by the Valley Floor be included in any decision considered as heavy lifting? Shouldn't real and actual environmental VF cleanup be included in anything considered heavy lifting? Shouldn't conservation of adjacent and nearby property be included in anything considered heavy lifting?

Actually, when you remove factors of affordable housing, infrastructure, truly critical environmental issues, and financial impact from the equation... how heavy was the lifting really?

How many financial hernias caused as a by product of your so called "heavy lifting" have to occur before reality sets in? The only thing that seems heavy to me is the amount of hubris involved on the part of a few very short-sighted people. Oh... and the amount of debt the town incurred is pretty heavy too.

Using the votes for validation of your point seems a bit... no, it seems hugely narrow-minded. In retrospect, many people who initially were for the condemnation, myself being one, also including examples such as the recent revelation regarding the parking and camping carrot on the stick used to manipulate the Bluegrass Festival team, where given a bit of a bait and switch.

If the vote were held today in 2009, I wonder what the outcome would be?

Let's face it, the path we took to get the VF was extremely myopic, the repercussions will abound and be painfully felt for some time.

I do not think the the people living in boxes or under tarps in the forest, or people driving an hour or more everyday to work in Telluride, would necessarily agree that keeping Neil Blue from responsibly developing seven percent (7%) of the VF, while we got the other ninety three percent (93%) for free, was a prudent choice when it comes at the expense of having affordable apartments available on the North side of the highway.

Seth Cagin seems to be one of the few, very few, people being realistic and honest about the realities, who has the courage to state his views publicly.

With regard to the VF use issues, the VF should be cleaned up, especially the river. Dogs, prairie dogs, hound dogs and the ghost of Elvis... yeah this I trust will be resolved intelligently by the guiding hands of the powers that be.

But Nordic skiing... are there no limitations to the arrogance and hubris of some? Groomed trails on a conservation area? Why don't we just allow jet skis in all wetlands? Why don't we allow racing boats and houseboats on Blue Lake where the town will soon be getting it's drinking water?

Don't you think the passionate debates surrounding the saving of the prairie dogs seem a little silly when there are diesel groomers motoring around?

Excuse me, but what part of a conservation area is defined by diesel equipment grooming trails? Are the Nordic skiers we have such wimps they can only ski on a groomed trail and cannot enjoy skiing without assaulting nature? Aren't there enough existing groomed trails that we don't have to use heavy, diesel powered, polluting equipment to groom the open space that so many people lifted so heavily for???

Correct me if I am wrong, but isn't Nordic skiing supposed to be at least partly for the exercise?

When I asked my Swedish friend Sven (real guy) about grooming, he stated that in his town, they only groom specific trails for the elderly, and they are "hand-groomed" by students and volunteers. When I explained to him why I was inquiring, because of the VF issue, his response was: "You are joking, aren't you?"

If the Nordic association has extra funds to pay for equipment and diesel fuel to groom the valley floor, wouldn't a less arrogant, less hubris, less polluting, more community cognizant use of any extra funds, such as donating to the families who need food assistance in the region and county, or donating to the actual cleanup of the river, be a much more worthwhile use of those funds?

Just my humble, personal opinions. Keep up the great work Seth.


Move on
March 01, 2009
For crying out loud Seth, aren't you beating a dead horse? We all know how you came down on Valley Floor preservation. But you had your chance to make your argument about why we should have let Blue annex the town (ad nauseam). If you convinced anyone, it wasn't enough (remember, there were multiple votes). Drop it and move on.

By the way, if you're relishing the disagreement on management practices, save your glee. Most of us who worked so hard for the current outcome consider the heavy lifting done. The little things like whether we want a bunch of dog poop out there or whether there's nordic skiing will work themselves out.
don't presume
March 01, 2009
I think Seth was saying that the voice of the land is what we make of it. Perhaps your interpretation isn't mine, or do you have a direct pipeline to the universe? That may be the height of vanity, right there.
February 28, 2009
I agree..I walk both sides of the river most nights and hear alot..Suppose it is because I dont see it as mine (or ours, the towns) but as theirs..the birds, the mice, the elk, hopefully cats and bears come spring..

Clearly the nordic bunch see parts of it as theirs for their exercising..which is great except for the diesel machine grooming the trails..

Says nothing at all?
February 28, 2009
It's actually the height of vanity that presupposes that the only "voice" of the land is its human inhabitants. The valley floor has lots to say--and if you quietly encroach upon it around dusk, you'll hear a bit of it.