Wolf Creek Pass Land Exchange - Alex Pullen Photography

Proposed boundary markers for the land exchange between the U.S. Forest Service and the developer, Red Mcoombs.

Com·mod·i·ty/kəˈmädədē/  noun –  a raw material or primary product that can be bought and sold, such as copper or coffee.

Although relishing the opportunity to be outside in such a pristine place, I reminded myself I was in this meadow for a reason… The sight of these two posts in the marshy ground, brought me back to my mission here on this lonely pass in Southern Colorado. “This all could be gone“, I stuttered, and immediately began taking pictures of the sign…  The sign accompanied by a wooden steak marked, “New Proposed Boundary“.

In 1986 a piece of public land was traded under shady conditions to a billionaire from out of state, and since that day, our public asset, unique ecosystem and enormous watershed have been threatened by high-end economic interests.

The developer’s intention, is to build an upper-class ski village adjacent to the quaint and much loved Wolf Creek Ski Area. Controversial, not only by the means of his acquisition of the public land, but also because the proposed development sits between the shoulders of some of the largest wilderness areas in the state of Colorado.  The situation, leaves local citizens confused about why this exchange is going through, and multiple lawsuits being fought against development, and the US government.

Wilderness areas in the U.S. are arguably some of the most protected lands in the entire world. The proposed village at wolf creek would disturb and bisect a "corridor" connecting two of the largest wilderness areas in Colorado.

Wilderness Areas in the U.S. are arguably some of the most protected lands in the entire world. The proposed “Village at Wolf Creek” would disturb and bisect a “corridor” connecting two of the largest Wilderness Areas in Colorado.

Driven by the fact that the wild meadow and gentle knoll adjacent to the existing old-school ski area could no longer be, I went to document the area.  To go spend a day there, and intimately see it myself… Its proximity to other large swaths of wilderness make this a prime habitat for elk, grouse and the elusive lynx. Such prime habitat, that in the year 2000 the Colorado Department of Wildlife released 41 lynx here, in an effort to restore the population in the region.

Earlier this year, a local team conducted a “BioBlitz” to document the biodiversity of the meadow, here’s what they found, in one day…, “30 bird species, including flyovers by osprey and bald eagle. More than 113 species of plants, including an uncommon ladies tresses orchid, and some grasses and sedges are found only in rare Colorado fen ecosystems. More than fifteen species of fungi, more than five mammal species, including sightings of four bear cubs and numerous American pikas.  In the evening after the event, biologists were lucky to hear the call of a Canada lynx.Click to Learn More about the BioBlitz.

There are simple things you can do to share your voice and protect this public asset!

Show me How

View of the meadow and Spruce covered knoll where the proposed development site will be.

View of the meadow and Spruce covered knoll where the proposed development accommodating 5,000 to 10,000 people could be.

 

Cotton Top Bistort - Wolf Creek Pass Alex Pullen Photography

Cotton Topped Bistort flowering on Wolf Creek Pass

It was a quite day in mid June… I could hear birds chirping softly and a creek chuckling to itself somewhere to my left.  It boggles my mind how hard it is for some people to see the value of what is already present… I continued slowly through the shimmering grass and cotton-topped bistorts across the marshy alpine fen… the only witness to my journey, a hawk searching the hillside…

Standing there I went over the mental list of things proposed in the development plan: 1,200 hotel rooms, 1600 condos and 220,000 square feet of retail space, 1,400 parking spaces and gas stations to accommodate the increased traffic to this remote pass in the southern Rocky Mountains. Adjacent to what is now a quite knoll laced with mossy spruce,  lays the existing Wolf Creek Ski Area, and the headwaters of two mighty rivers, the Rio Grande and the Colorado.

The idea of a high-end ski area on Wolf Creek Pass concerns many people. The area has already lost 60%-70% of the Spruce due to beetle kill. This delicate ecosystem will not benefit from parking lots and private condos. As it stands the existing family-style/undeveloped ski hill is a notable example of friendly human/nature interaction.  It would be sad to lose such a great and authentic experience of Colorado to yet another spoonfed resort experience… There is nobody on this earth that truly needs this development to happen… If people want a high-class experience, Vail and Aspen are five hours north, Telluride three hours West…

 

Lumiere Hotel - Telluride

Lumiere Hotel – Telluride, a stark contrast to what the natural environment in the Rockies actually looks like.

Earlier this spring, I was in the development known as Mountain Village (a high-end ski resort/synthetic town outside of Telluride, CO). I say “synthetic” because most of the year it’s abandoned… It’s not a real community – it’s a commodity… A constructed experience of “reality” in the Southern Rockies, for the most part exclusive to the upper class (unless you work at one of the restaurants…)

That night in Telluride we rode the gondola back from the “Village“, and as our car rose and crested the hill we caught a momentary glimpse of it nestled into the valley, the stars and the proud peaks rising high on either side. It reminded me of an image from a children’s fairy tale. Designed to be “beautiful” in a twisted way… but also an illusion, a story, like the fairy tale… spun for the benefit of the upper class, at the expense of the ecosystem and local communities. Shaking my head, I watched the lights fade into the distance. The thought of what used to be there, where those parking lots and shopping plazas are now… that beautiful meadow… the animals, the flowers, the silence… the soggy earth wreathed in mid-summer flowers, now buried under a matrix of pipes, metric tons of cement, and peoples’ fifth and sixth homes. This is not only a fight for a piece of land, but a fight between the interests of the general public, and the minority upper class.

Walking through the glade on Wolf Creek Pass was a powerful experience. If you are able, I encourage you do it. Walk, snow shoe, hike, ski, bike… go see if for yourself. It may be gone forever…

Help leave a legacy for generations to come and hold the public officials and agencies, responsible for allowing this development to be considered.  Only together can we preserve this unique and endangered ecosystem, watershed and public asset. The communities in and around Wolf Creek Pass have been fighting this proposed development for thirty years. Please lend your voice and support whether you are from Colorado or outside of it…

To learn about simple yet powerful actions you can make to protect this piece of land visit – The San Juan Citizens Alliance for more information.

What Simple Things can I do to Help?

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For more durangodowntown.com exclusive stories by Alex Pullen click here, or if you would like to see more of his work visit him at alexpullen.com