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Help Reopen Bear Creek to Skiing and Snowboarding!

Those of you who ski down south may have already heard about the Bear Creek debacle in Telluride. Seems an enterprising gent by the name of Thomas Chapman purchased several mining claims and convinced the Forest Service to close the backcountry gates out of Telluride because skiers might cross his property. I’m not up-to-speed with the history, but it sounds like he’s pulled off this maneuver before–buying property, then convincing the resort to pay an inflated price to reestablish access. Locals are outraged, visitors are bummin’…and Thomas Chapman and his Gold Hill Development Corporation are hoping to turn a quick buck.

You can help by offering public comment to the Forest Service. Below, you’ll find info on how to get involved and more on the land acquisition and fight. The Colorado Mountain Club and Backcountry Snowsports Inititative are leading the charge…so help ’em out!

I’ll leave you with this telling quote from Chapman. In an interview with a local mag, he explained he hopes to “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.”

Uh…I guess that’s us, folks. Let’s have at it.

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Bear Creek Telluride
Dear Robert,
I am writing to you today as a CMC member to ask you to take action on an issue that is important to me and many of our fellow members. Telluride, Colorado is currently dealing with a serious public lands access issue that — if handled properly and with your help—may set a precedent that both protects our rights as recreationalists and prevents this issue from occurring elsewhere in Colorado and throughout the West.
As you may know, Bear Creek Basin near Telluride 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, however, the U.S. Forest Service’s Norwood District Ranger, Judy Schutza, closed three backcountry gates accessing the popular Bear Creek drainage adjacent to the Telluride ski area.  The closure is 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 with holdings north of Chapman’s claims. Chapman’s group recently acquired a contiguous strip of three mining claims that start in Delta Bowl and run down to the bottom of the Bear Creek drainage. The other landowner owns the nearby Nellie claim.
The gates closed by the USFS are on federal land and provide access to public lands that do not necessarily cross Chapman’s private mining claims. These gates provide the only reasonable ski access from the ski area into upper Bear Creek, and their closure effectively closes the basin to public winter use.  The closure also blocks access to the Wasatch Trail, which has been recognized by the USFS for several decades and is one of the region’s most popular summer hikes.


The landowners of the specified mining claims have been accused of attempting to create greater potential sale value for their properties by advocating for this closure, advocacy some locals view as extortive.  Chapman told Telluride Magazine in an interview published this winter that one of his professional goals is “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.”  We don’t see what’s over-zealous about protecting historical backcountry ski access to public land.  This situation needs to be corrected, and to do that, we need your help.Robert, please help us in our attempt to regain access to public land in a constructive and respectful manner. The Forest Service needs to hear from as many of us as possible in order to better understand the highest and best use of our high-country environments. If we can educate our government and other establishments on backcountry usage in this case, our work may have impacts far beyond the current issue in Telluride.

The CMC, with Telluride’s Sheep Mountain Alliance, has filed a FOIA request with the Forest Service to discover the details behind these closures.  In the meantime, it is my hope—on behalf of the Colorado Mountain Club, the American Alpine Club, Telluride recreationalists, Winter Wildlands Alliance, and The Access Fund—that you might take a few minutes of your time to help protect access to our many spectacular mountain environments.

Our recreation access depends on your action.


Jay Heeter

Campaigns Coordinator
The Colorado Mountain Club
Take Action: Write a Letter!
Personalized messages are the most effective form of communication when making a comment to public officials. Therefore, please use the text as a guide and spice-up your letter with your personal connection to the Bear Creek area and Telluride’s backcountry user community. Written letters are more effective than emails. Both are even better.
Compose message to the following recipients;
Charley RichmondForest Supervisor, U.S. Forest Service

2250 Highway 50, Delta, CO 81416


Judy SchutzaDistrict Ranger, U.S. Forest Service

P.O. Box 388, Norwood, CO 81423


Subject: Please Reopen the upper Bear Creek backcountry access points that provide public access from the Telluride Ski Area onto National Forest System lands in Upper Bear Creek.
Dear __________,
Paragraph 1: Introduce yourself, include where you live and work, if you have skied Bear Creak, how often. If you are from out of town, discuss how often you come to the area to ski. Don’t forget to mention if you are a member of Winter Wildlands Alliance. Discuss why this area is important to you.
Paragraph 2: Discuss why you oppose the recent closure. Include any of the following talking points in your message.
  • Please reopen the Upper Bear Creek backcountry access gates immediately and involve the public in future decisions about this area.
  • The hasty decision to close access to this area did not adequately take into account the economic and social impacts on the region’s people and businesses.
  • It is problematic, and potentially illegal, when a federal agency closes public land that has been open to public use for over 10 years without any public input.
  • The closed gates provide access to public lands that do not necessarily cross the involved private mining claims. There are many other areas that can be accessed via these access points that do not conflict with or trespass on private land.
  • In the previous decades, there was never any concern about public access in the Bear Creek drainage. There have been documented ski descents in this area as early as the 1960s or earlier.
  • Part of the USFS’s mission is to provide the public with reasonable access to public land.
  • The Wasatch Trail is an USFS-recognized trail that has been used by the public for decades without any contested use.
Paragraph 3: Closing statement restating reopening access.
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