Proposal for more than 2,000 new units stirs up the pot
T he lifts at Wolf Creek Ski Area
haven't budged since April 4. But a parcel adjacent to the area has
drawn enormous amounts of attention, stirred up controversy and is
continuing to generate opposition. A "Vail-sized city" has been
proposed at the base of the ski area. As the Forest Service
continues to study impacts, the agency is hearing from hundreds of
individuals and agencies that would rather not see "The Village at
Wolf Creek" come into existence.
"The Village at Wolf
Creek" is not directly affiliated with the Wolf Creek Ski Area,
which is widely recognized as a sleepy, no-frills, family-run
operation. Still, a Texas development company, funded by Minnesota
Vikings owner Red McCombs, is looking to capitalize on the ski
area. The group has proposed developing 287.5 acres just east of
Wolf Creek Pass and at the base of the Alberta lift. The land was
acquired during a 1989 land exchange with the Forest Service. The
details of the exchange are also suspicious, as it was originally
denied by the Rio Grande National Forest for not being in the
public's best interest. Two weeks later, an order issued from the
Department of Interior headquarters in Washington, D.C., overturned
the denial and allowed the land exchange to proceed.
Nearly 15 years later,
the Rio Grande National Forest is now studying a proposal by
McCombs to build on the acreage. The "village" would include 2,172
new units of housing and 222,100 square feet of commercial space.
As part of the plan, 12 new restaurants, several hotels and a
convention center would be built on the meadow. Immediately after
its announcement, opposition to "The Village at Wolf Creek" was
strong, and now the outcry is off the Rio Grande National Forest
"This is a very sleepy
forest," said Steve Brigham, National Environmental Policy Act
Coordinator, from his Del Norte office. "We have a few timber sales
and a great deal of wilderness to manage. But we've never had this
much controversy. This is huge."
Brigham said that he
suspects that people's long-time allegiance to Wolf Creek Ski Area
and its down-home flavor is the source of controversy.
"There are so many
people who like Wolf Creek and have strong opinions," he said.
"We've had comments from all over the country. We're getting much
more interest in this than any of our other projects."
And Brigham said that he
doesn't expect this interest to go away. In fact, he has an
interesting prediction for the future. "It's going to get crazy,"
opposition is a group called Friends of Wolf Creek, which includes
individuals and businesses. It also includes representation from
conservation groups like Colorado Wild, the American Lands
Alliance, the Colorado Mountain Club, San Juan Citizens' Alliance,
San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, The Wildlands Project and the
Wilderness Society. Wolf Creek Ski Area has also gone on the record
as opposing the development.
Jeff Berman, executive
director of Colorado Wild, agreed that Wolf Creek and its location
were responsible for the outcry. In particular, he noted that "The
Village at Wolf Creek" would sit squarely in the sensitive corridor
between the South San Juan and Weminuche wilderness areas. With
this in mind, he said that the development would greatly damage
wetlands, sensitive species, water quality and add to traffic
levels. He added that given the remote location, the elevation and
harsh climate, the proposal does not even make financial
"While this is an
incredibly important wildlife corridor, it's not necessarily the
most visually striking place," Berman said. "This is not Telluride
and the developer does not seem to understand that. Ultimately, the
development is not going to succeed and will end up being a stain
on the land."
Berman added, "This is
an unrealistic development proposal, and I don't think the money
behind it understands that. It's at 10,300 feet. You don't have
Texans come up to that altitude to visit and not get
The Rio Grande National
Forest is continuing to work up an environmental impact study of
the proposed development. The agency accepted comments during a
public scoping period which closed on April 15. Berman said that a
total of 520 letters were sent to the Forest Service and 83 percent
of them adamantly opposed the development.
Given this level of
opposition, Berman said he is hopeful that the proposal will be
withdrawn. "We would hope that the developers would come to an
understanding that this is really an unsound development proposal,"
he said. "I suspect they really don't understand the nature of
In spite of the
opposition, Brigham said that the Rio Grande National Forest is
going forward with the EIS and hopes to have a draft document
released at the end of the summer.
speculating about what is going to happen," he said. "We're just
going to do our job. But I'm sure this is going to get
Berman agreed that if a
draft EIS is released at the end of the summer, it will most likely
result in a lawsuit.
"The development manager
has said time and time again that this is on a fast track," he
said. "The Forest Service can go ahead and release an inadequate
study at the end of the summer. But it might not be the most