Last week, county residents debated extending visual impact regulations to additional roads. The Ouray Trail Group (OTG) participated — in spite of our representative being harassed by others in attendance — but came away disappointed when one county planning commission member described our group as “small and unrepresentative.” Our 100-plus members take vigorous exception to that put-down, confident that our 28-year history of preserving trails, historic structures and irreplaceable lands in the alpine endear us to the great majority of residents and visitors who travel into our mountains.
Our first land purchase occurred in 1998 when exceptional Realtor Alice Leeper sacrificed a full commission in favor of assisting the OTG in acquiring 64 acres of mining claims in the heart of Yankee Boy Basin to be preserved as public open space. That success was followed by the multi-year, multi-million dollar Red Mountain Project in which the OTG and its members were active participants. That project resulted in some 10,000 acres becoming public land but revealed amazing contrasts between mining claim owners and their differing attitudes toward conservation.
Some remarkable individuals like Marie Robinson, Giles Toll and Dave Kupperman donated their properties, while many others readily accepted appraised values, favoring open space. Idarado and Newmont Mining executives decided that thousands of acres of claims throughout Ouray and San Miguel counties should go to the Trust for Public Land. Selling them individually would have been more profitable, but they chose to leave a more compelling legacy for future generations. We are all indebted.
For some owners, Realtors and developers, profit comes first. One actively promoted a trophy home on top of Red Mountain #3 and envisioned log homes throughout the historic Red Mountain mining district. A few newer homes and cabins now exist on claims sold by this individual, but his grander image is not fulfilled — yet.
Then there was Tom Chapman whose infamous sales techniques in the Red Mountain area fortunately met with limited success. He once excavated the remnants of the Yankee Girl generator building and piled the remains in front of the headframe. A website photo of a large loader in front of the historic structure suggested imminent destruction. The Yankee Girl was rescued and remains in a conservation easement.
OTG respects landowners’ rights to sell or develop their lands and we try to work cooperatively with them where possible. We discourage illegal trespass but contest trail closures when we believe public rights are violated. While we prefer conservation, we know that continuing losses to development are inevitable.
County governments play a critical role in alpine areas, conserving their economic value. Pitkin County limits building size on mining claims and San Juan County prohibits residences above timberline. Extending visual impact regulations to alpine roads is a modest step.
It is disappointing that Planning Commission could not offer support. We urge the Board of County Commissioners to consider adding CR 361 and CR 26 roads to the spectacular basins drained by Canyon Creek to the list. Future visitors and residents will be appreciative.