Access issues crop up at trio of fourteeners |

Access issues crop up at trio of fourteeners

Allen Best
Vail correspondent

A landowner in the Telluride area is threatening to block use of land that is commonly used to reach three fourteeners ” Wilson Peak, Mount Wilson and El Diente ” while trying to trade land with the U.S. Forest Service.

The owners, represented by Rusty Nichols, say they want to renew mining operations on the 238-acre tract, which is located slightly above timberline at the end of the Silver Pick Road. Nichols has applied for gold and silver mining permits from the state.

How serious is he? Many people think it’s just a stratagem. Three times he has proposed trades that would, in exchange for his above-timberline property, yield him 2,000 acres of developable aspen-covered land on nearby Wilson Mesa. The Forest Service has rejected all three proposals.

“Of course the Forest Service cannot show comparable value,” says Steve Bonowski, a senior volunteer in the Colorado Mountain Club’s conservation department.

Telluride’s Steve Johnson, a lawyer and outdoor enthusiast, says Nichols is hewing to a now familiar strategy engineered by Tom Chapman, a Delta-based lawyer.

In the early 1990s, Chapman threatened to build a lodge on private land within the West Elk Wilderness between Paonia and Crested Butte. When the Forest Service did not respond with a land exchange that satisfied him, he made good on his threat ” and the Forest Service succumbed, giving him property near the Telluride ski area that even then had escalated in value.

In other words, say critics, Chapman got the better of the Forest Service.

More recently in 1999, Chapman announced the offering of various wilderness holdings near Vail, Gunnison and elsewhere that, he said, could be developed into exclusive retreats.

Some properties, such as the abandoned Treasure Vault Mille property inside the Holy Cross Wilderness Area, were so remote they would have required helicopter access. Nothing has ever come of those would-be sales.

Such threats are not isolated.

“Montana, Idaho ” what Western state does not have private land access issues?” said Ralph Swain, the Lakewood-based manager of the regional wilderness program for the U.S. Forest Service.

The access to Wilson Peak remains in limbo. Various hiking and mountaineering groups are attempting to map out an alternative route up the peak and into the Silver Pick Basin that would detour around the private land.

The Forest Service has declined to mark the trail. By federal law it is required to survey marked routes for impacts to Indian artifacts as well as animal and plant communities.

Other than in the Mosquito Range, the only fourteeners in Colorado with privately owned summits were private as a result of Spanish land grants that preceded American administration; of those two, Kit Carson and Culebra, only the latter remains in private hands.

However, common access routes for Mount Lindsey, also in the Sangre de Cristos, remains in private hands, although there has been no report of trouble.

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