Local, state and national groups rally members to preserve backcountry access
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — A battle over the backcountry in Telluride is heating up, as state and national conservation and advocacy groups are urging their members to write letters to elected officials and Forest Service rangers to ensure access from the Telluride ski area to the popular Bear Creek drainage.
The Forest Service suddenly closed the backcountry access points on Gold Hill after private property owners in the area complained about the potential liability associated with what they claim is trespass. The Telluride Mountain Club, a local backcountry advocacy group, took up the fight, claiming that the Forest Service may have violated its own procedures by closing the route without any public involvement — especially since opening the access points involved a full scale environmental analysis.
“It could set a precedent for other closures in Colorado,” said TMC spokesman Tor Anderson. Of particular concern is access to the Wasatch Trail, which has been enjoyed by the public for decades. The group believes there should be a public easement across private lands for both winter and summer travel, basing that claim partially on the fact that there’s been uncontested public access to the area since the 1800s and documented ski descents since at elate the 1960s.
The TMC believes the Forest Service has an obligation to provide reasonable access to the area. The organization has held some discussions with the Forest Service, pointing out that there are routes that could avoid trespass on private land.
Similarly, the American Alpine Club and the Colorado Mountain Club, representing thousands of members, have also taken up the cause. Here’s an explanatory paragraph from the American Alpine Club’s action alert:
“Bear Creek Basin is an uncontrolled backcountry area that offers some of the most spectacular ski and snowboard terrain in the Rockies. Until December 2010, it was accessible through USFS gates at the Telluride Ski Resort. On December 8th, U.S. Forest Service district ranger Judy Schutza closed three backcountry gates accessing the popular Bear Creek drainage adjacent to the Telluride ski area, in response to a request by property owner Thomas Chapman of the Chapman Group (a.k.a. Gold Hill Development Corp.) and another private landowner nearby, north of Chapman’s claims. Chapman’s group owns a contiguous strip of three mining claims that start in Delta Bowl and run down to the bottom of the drainage. The other landowner owns the nearby Nellie claim. This also blocks access to the Wasatch Trail, one of the region’s most popular summer hikes, and a USFS-recognized trail for several decades.”