The Battle Over Bear Creek Makes Powder
It seems that Powder Magazine writer Tim Mutrie and Wild Snow blogger Lou Dawson took the liberty of printing outtakes from an interview that journalist Gus Jarvis conducted with the infamous developer Thomas Chapman for Telluride Magazine. Jarvis had conducted the interview through email per Chapman’s request and he appears to have forwarded the draft to Mutrie, who wrote, “Chapman then emailed over the text of an email interview he says he did, three months earlier, with a reporter from the Watch, Gus Jarvis [who works for the Watch newspaper, but was writing the story for Telluride Magazine]. He says the interview was never published (attempts to reach Jarvis were unsuccessful).” Since Dawson received the interview from Chapman, it is possible that he didn’t know that the series of questions and answers originated from Jarvis.
Kudos to Jarvis for doing such a great job on the interview that someone felt they needed to tap his efforts to make their story complete. The realm of Interweb, email, blogs, etc. make it difficult to retain ownership and control of ones work. The article that stemmed from the interview was published; you can read the edited story in the winter 2010 Telluride Magazine. Below is the complete version of Jarvis’ email interview with Chapman. If you want to keep abreast of the ever-evolving story of the battle over land in upper Bear Creek read the Watch.
Sent: Wednesday, September 08, 2010 5:06 PM
Subject: Re: Magazine Article
Thanks so much for your time.
Q: Will you describe what it is that you do through land exchanges/real estate purchases? Is it purely business and profits or are there other motives?
Chapman: I have been a Colorado real estate broker for 38 consecutive years. In that period of time I have done exactly one land exchange. That was the Telluride/West Elk Wilderness land exchange in1994. In those 38 years, I have held small minority ownership interests in exactly four real estate investments. Your local Telluride brokers might do that many in a year. In dozens of other real estate transaction, I was the seller’s real estate broker working at commission rates of 6% or less.
When I represent a property owner as a broker, I do exactly the same thing every broker advertising in your magazine does. That is, I make every effort to sell my client’s property for the highest possible price.
In those four transactions in which I have held a principal interest, my objective was, and is, to sell for more than we paid and make a profit—which would also be the same motive of every Telluride investor/owner/principal advertising in your magazine this week.
I consider myself a landowner advocate, particularly in the specialty area of private lands entrapped by federal legislation, usually wilderness expansion legislation, but national parks as well. The entrapped private lands have immediate compromised values, in that the typical landowner does not have the money resources to battle the gargantuan federal government, state government, and right on down to the county level where County Commissioners pass regulations that limit the use of these lands due to their “special designation” or “elevation”, or whatever ostensible reason they believe exists for protecting the public from “adverse” use by a private landowner just surrounded. The resulting valuation process is compromised due to restricted use and restricted access.
So, if I were to try to assess what I see as my role in this process, it would be first and foremost to represent the interest of compromised landowners, in seeing that they have every opportunity to sell their lands for the highest possible price, just as would be the case for the landowner back in town. In this sense, my goal would be to have a positive impact on the reasoning process at the political level, say at Congresswoman Diana DeGette’s level, where she is trying to introduce legislation that would expand and create new wilderness areas in Western Colorado and Eastern Utah. I would like to have her, her staff, her fellow Congressmen and Senators, and all proponents of wilderness designation, be aware of the conflicted circumstances that arise when decisions are made for pure political expediency. There is a better way of accomplishing the same goal, and it’s called sitting down at the kitchen table with proposed inholders, or in this case, the Bear Creek landowners. That is the correct way to resolve the issue, the way our founding fathers would have endorsed.
Nearly every person in America, every environmentalist, every non-profit organization, and most of the people in Telluride, buy real estate of some kind with the thought of selling it for more than they paid for it. This opportunity should not be denied a landowner who happens to be entrapped within a wilderness area or within Bear Creek.
Therefore, making a profit for my client is one of my goals. Another would be to serve as a “check” against the over-zealous portion of the environmental community and the sycophant politicians that pander to them for political gain.
Q: How would you describe your past purchases/ land exchanges in Colorado and the West? What do you look for when purchasing properties?
Chapman: Your plural use of “land exchanges” needs to be changed to the singular “land exchange”. What I would look for when purchasing a property would be the same thing that Editor Seth [Cagin of the Watch] and every investor in Telluride today would look for—something that has the possibility of being worth more tomorrow than it is worth today.
Q: How did you get your start in real estate and how did you become successful? (If you consider yourself successful)
Chapman: I started 38 years ago at the age of 22, upon graduating from the University of Colorado. In that 38-year period of time, I have never had a complaint filed against me, or my company, on any matter, with the Colorado Division of Real Estate. Few brokers in Telluride, if any, could make a similar statement. My success may be your failure. Success can be measured in many ways, and therefore there is no absolute answer to your question.
Q: What was it about the Mining Claims in Bear Creek that sparked your interest in them? What was it that made you decide to purchase the claims?
Chapman: Dr. Greenberg, the prior owner, contacted me in 2002 and asked if I would assist him in selling his Bear Creek claims. I listed the properties for sale at $180,000.00. There are over 100 acres of land in this group, including about 30 acres of full surface and mineral rights, and about 70 acres of mineral rights only claims. In the summer of 2002, I took out a full back page ad in either your newspaper or your competitor’s, I can’t remember which, advertising all of Dr. Greenberg’s lands for $180,000.00. I was not successful in selling this property for Dr. Greenberg during the period of my listing. The Forest Service would not appraise the lands for more than $130,000.00. Dr. Greenberg would not come down on his price. And Telluride didn’t care, evidently, as no one in Telluride expressed any interest whatsoever in purchasing these lands. So I walked away —for seven years.
In those ensuing seven years, Dr. Greenberg would call me occasionally to give me an update on his efforts to sell or trade his lands. He was working without a broker during those years, trying to sell his lands to either the Forest Service or to any person or organization in Telluride that would have liked to purchase them.
Last October Dr. Greenberg called me to say that he had received a request from Telluride Ski & Golf for permission to travel over his lands for purpose of the snow avalanche study. He denied their request. They entered anyway. Dr. Greenberg made it clear that he did not want people to ski across his lands. They skied over his lands anyway, at the rate of 200 per day, or 6,000 per month (Telski’s count, not ours). Once again, Dr. Greenberg asked me if I might have a buyer that would purchase his lands.
I said yes, I had a party looking for an investment in Colorado and I would see if they might have an interest in these stunningly beautiful lands in Bear Creek. Dr. Greenberg’s asking price was now $300,000.00. I sold it for $246,000.00 and the buyers were absolutely delighted to own this exquisite property. I was delighted to finally be able to sell it for Dr. Greenberg, who was hung out to dry, in my opinion, by every person and entity in the Telluride region for seven years. It certainly looked like a situation of why buy, when you can trespass for free.
I did not buy the claims. They were purchased by Gold Hill Development Company, in which I hold a small principal interest (my 4th investment). If you would like to ask questions of the majority partner, you may do so by contacting him. His name is Ron Curry, and he’s the in-residence chef and manager at the inimitable Casa Barranca within the Black Canyon National Park. www.blackcanyoncasa.com Phone: 970-252-0159 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Q: Do you have plans for those claims? If so, what are they? What is the future of Bear Creek?
Chapman: Gold Hill Development Corporation intends to:
1. Reopen the multiple existing gold and silver mines on the various claims, utilizing the historic and still existing Gold Hill Road to remove ore to processing plants, subject to a pending minerals analysis showing this option to be economically viable.
2. Construct a 1000 square foot European-style rock chalet on the westerly portion of the Little Bessie parcel, just below Gold Hill Ridge, just above lift 15, just over the ridge from the Telski “chute” runs, in the area known locally as the “Delta Bowl”.
3. Develop “eco-tourism” facilities on the Modena Parcel (the large flat area just below San Joaquin Ridge and just above the “Wedding Chutes”). Those facilities would consist of Yurt-style structures, in the concept of a spa resort. In the winter, we would utilize the “balloon-igloo construction technique”, whereby you create living space by the void created by large balloon structures packed with snow and ice.
4. We intend to fence the property for maximum privacy in summer months.
5. We intend to close our lands to all public travel, both summer and winter months and will take whatever measures are necessary to stop the trespass skiing occurring on GHDC lands via the upper Gold Hill backcountry release gates, including injunctive relief if necessary. The liability associated with public skiing over our private lands is unacceptable. This should be obvious, with Bear Creek Off-Piste ski run names like “Graveyard” and “Deep & Dangerous”, both of which are on the GHDC Little Bessie parcel.
As you know, there have been several deaths in Bear Creek in the last 15 years. The snow is not controlled in this area. It is not safe to ski in this area without avalanche control. Therefore, we intend to terminate skiing over GHDC private lands and we have asked the Forest Service to close the Gold Hill release gate and rescind all current guide permits that would result in trespass over Bear Creek private lands. We are not the only Bear Creek landowner who has taken this position. There is absolutely no way that a skier who exits the two upper Gold Hill release gates, above Lift 15, can descend down to Telluride without crossing private lands (including non-GHDC lands). All of these private lands were surveyed this summer, and all are closed to trespass and skiing.
6. We intend to reopen vehicular access along the historic Gold Hill Road for the entire 4 1/2 mile length of the road, starting at the mine dump on the Little Bessie parcel in Upper Bear Creek Basin all the way back to town, crossing the bridge at the lower Gondola station and then crossing to the first public street. This road is clearly shown on the Drake Mountain Maps 2002 MAP OF THE MOUNTAINS OF TELLURIDE. We had the entire road surveyed this summer, including those portions that travel through the five Telski private parcels on the ridge. We are initiating legal proceedings in federal court against two parties for the purpose of quieting title along the historic Gold Hill Road, most of which, as you know, is a well-maintained boulevard utilized by Telluride Ski & Golf year-round. The public would know this road right-of-way as the “See Forever Run”.
The actions will be against:
— As against the Forest Service, in a claim of DOI Easement (known as a Department of Interior Easement). The Little Bessie Parcel was patented in 1892, with all rights of ingress and egress appurtenant thereto along the then existing Gold Hill Road, fully 13 years before the 1905 Uncompahgre National Forest reservation. The right of ingress and egress for the Little Bessie parcel along the Gold Hill Road predates Forest Service rights in and to the same road right-of-way. As an alternative to this action, GHDC has offered to exchange non-exclusive easements with the Forest Service that would grant GHDC vehicular road access on the 97% of the Gold Hill Road owned by the Forest Service, and in return, GHDC would grant a non-exclusive easement to the Forest Service for public access through those portions of the Wasatch Trail and the East Fork Trail that pass through GHDC lands.
— As against Telluride Ski & Golf and TSG Asset Holdings, in a quiet title action against the five private parcels they hold along Gold Hill ridge. The GHDC Little Bessie Parcel was patented in 1892. All five of the Telski parcels were patented subsequent to that date, and therefore are “junior” in line of patent. The appurtenants clause found within the Little Bessie patent creates a senior right for ingress and egress over all subsequent patents issued along the road, including all of the subsequent patents issued on parcels now owned by Telluride Ski & Golf and TSG Asset Holdings. All patents now held by Telski are “junior”, and in fact have been “junior” to the senior rights of the Little Bessie for the last 118 years.
Q: Have you been eyeing other available real estate in Colorado? In the Telluride region?
Chapman: There’s quite a bit of real estate available in Colorado at the moment, and I haven’t had the time to eye it. I guess I would have to admit that on those numerous occasions when I have been in Telluride, usually skiing, I would eye Bear Creek Basin and wonder why no one in the entire community of Telluride cared a whit about Dr. Greenberg’s Bear Creek lands, which could have been purchased for about the same amount of money it takes build a carport in Telluride.
Q: There are some who say the way you purchase parcels of land that are either surrounded by public lands or adjacent to public lands and then threaten to develop them, which has led to land exchanges or high-priced sales as a form of extortion, especially if it comes out of the Federal Government. What do you say to those people who believe that to be true?
Chapman: There will always be those who will inevitably suffer misconceptions for lack of investing sufficient time in investigating the facts.
For those who are interested in a straight-up honest debate on the issues, I would simply say that they must first properly inform themselves and not rely exclusively upon the unvalidated assertions of others who may be committed to a questionable agenda. I would also tell them not to vote for pandering politicians, who for political expediency, create inholdings to begin with. The genesis of the problem is the environmental advocate who convinces a glad-handing politician to create an inholding in the first place.
But once they are created, the entrapped landowner does not lose his constitutional right of reasonable use and enjoyment of his or her lands, and they certainly do not lose the right to sell their lands for the highest possible price. To believe otherwise, is to degrade the core values that most Americans hold. One of which is the right to equal and fair treatment with regards to real estate ownership and another of which would be that most Americans respect, and even revere, private property rights—even if they disagree with the way thy neighbor uses his or her lands.
Q: What do you say to those who are angry that your mining claim purchase is taking away what was once public access to Bear Creek? Do you plan to allow skiers through Bear Creek at all?
Chapman: I would simply say that they are misinformed. In fact, public access has never existed in Bear Creek, not since the 1880’s with the patent of numerous private lands that cross the width and breadth of Bear Creek. From that date forward, public access up Bear Creek was always subject to permission to cross private lands. Gus, you will notice in Telluride that you have to have permission to do a lot of things. For example, if you want to park on the streets, you are required to buy a parking stub. If you don’t, the rules say the town police department can give you a ticket or impound your car. If there are no rules, and if people are not willing to respect the next person’s property rights (or the right of the town to create parking rules), then we have anarchy.
The correct way to handle this issue, is the way the Hardrock Hundred folks handled it this summer. They asked permission of GHDC to cross the private lands. And permission was granted. So in that regard, if a skier wants to pass through this winter, he will have to explain how he will mitigate the liability issue from accidental death or injury, which are the two over-riding factors in the decision to not allow skiing over the private lands, most of which is treacherous skiing as you know. No one has yet to explain why it is acceptable to transfer very real injury and death liability over and unto the several Bear Creek landowners, just so Telski can pocket another $92.00 lift ticket or a $600.00 guide ticket.
Q: What do you do in your spare time? Family? Where did you grow up?
Chapman: My avocations are piano and reading. I grew up in Paonia, Colorado.
Q: What are your feelings about the creation of wilderness/open space areas where private development is made no longer available?
Chapman: Actually, I think the creation of wilderness areas and open space is a wonderful thing. I fully support the preservation of open space. Of course, my opinion is that it should be done with full agreement and cooperation of the affected landowners. In other words, I think Telluride’s approach to open space and private property rights (Neal Blue-Valley Floor as an example) is an abomination and is mostly peculiar to Telluride. It is not what the majority of Americans would support as the correct way to resolve mutual interests in preserving open space.
Q: What is it that you like doing in your occupation?
Chapman: I like working with friends and clients whose private property rights are being abused by others.
I think that should be it for now. Please let me know if there are any points you would like to make that I may not have asked about.
Again, thank you for your time.
P.S. When do you think the WSJ article will be published? Any idea?
Chapman: No idea. But if it does come out, I believe it will touch upon these Bear Creek issues. They are aware of the peculiar way people in Telluride approach private property rights.