Resistance to Wolf Creek village grows
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 charts.

"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," he said.

Spearheading the 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 sense.

"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 sick."

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 opposition."

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.

"Everybody is 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 legal."

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 prudent decision." •





News Index Second Index Opinion Index Classifieds Index Contact Index