Court rules against Village

Red McCombs took a major stumble last week. The Colorado Court of Appeals has ruled that Mineral County commissioners wrongly approved the Village at Wolf Creek, representing a substantial delay for the development, which hoped to be under construction by now.

McCombs and his development partner Bob Honts have pitched the large-scale “village” for the base of the Wolf Creek Ski Area, which is unaffiliated with the project. The team wants to build 2,172 new units and more than 220,000 square feet of commercial space, including 12 new restaurants and several hotels. The project received approval from Mineral County in 2004.

However, the county commissioners approved the development at a time before the Forest Service had granted access to McCombs’ parcel, which is surrounded by public land. That fact prompted a lawsuit from Colorado Wild and the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, and last week, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that the vote was illegal and nullified the approval.

“From our perspective, this is great news,” said Ryan Demmy Bidwell, Colorado Wild executive director. “With the court affirming that it was illegal for Mineral County to approve the development without legitimate access, the question now is whether or not the access should have then been granted by the Forest Service.”

Bidwell added that in a Catch-22, Mineral County’s approval was cited by the Forest Service as grounds for approving access to McCombs’ inholding. In granting the access, the Forest Service argued that real estate development was a foregone conclusion and consequently, it did not have to address the impacts of the Village at Wolf Creek. A separate Colorado Wild lawsuit is currently questioning the legality of the Forest Service decision.

Bidwell did acknowledge that McCombs could go back to Mineral County and again seek approval, but only after the second lawsuit and the access question are weighed in court. “If the federal courts were to decide that the Forest Service actually acted lawfully, Honts and McCombs could go back to Mineral County and seek approval,” he said. “Obviously we hope that the courts will make the Forest Service take a much more in depth look at the impacts of the project before that could happen.”

Honts and McCombs did attempt to begin construction on the Village at Wolf Creek this summer. However, District Court Judge David West issued a recommendation to extend the Preliminary Injunction that has held the proposed construction at a standstill since last fall.

Research puts price on fourteeners

Colorado’s fourteeners – peaks that rise 14,000 feet or more above sea level – mean big money for adjacent communities, according to new studies from Colorado State University. Durango sits in close proximity to three fourteeners – Windom, Eolus and Sunlight.

Two recent Colorado State University research reports examined the overall economic values derived from climbers ascending fourteeners. The studies found that fourteener recreation enables rural areas of the state to diversify their economies and bring in additional revenue beyond traditional, extractive industries. According to the research, the average length of hiking trips was about a day and a half, and the median time spent hiking was six hours. Staying at a hotel the night before was found to be common, and the average group spent $179 per day and $246 per trip, according to the research. Expenditures cover the cost of camping, groceries, gasoline, equipment rental and other needs. Climbers drove an average of 152 miles one-way to reach a fourteener.

John Loomis, one of the Colorado State researchers, commented that these costs are second only to outdoor activities like rafting through the Grand Canyon. “In my 30 years of recreational value research, climbing the peaks of Colorado has proven to be one of the most economically valuable activities,” he said. “There aren’t many other states with fourteeners, and Colorado has 54 of them. That provides a tremendous economic boost to the state’s economy each year.”

The studies also highlighted the three fourteeners – Mount Democrat, Mount Lincoln and Mount Bross – that have been closed to public access since 2005. According to the findings,

Park and Summit county economies stand to generate $1 million in activity and 25 jobs when the peaks are officially opened for climbing. In March of last year, Colorado House Bill 1049 was signed into law, providing limited liability protection to landowners who allow public recreation and indemnifying them from lawsuits related to potential injuries occurring at old mine sites.

Enrollment climbs at Fort Lewis

Census day, the day when the student enrollment numbers are finalized at Fort Lewis College, has come and gone and left good news in its wake.

Fort Lewis College’s official enrollment for fall 2007 is 3,935 students. This is an increase of 28 students over last year’s number of 3,907. The college also welcomed its largest freshman class since 2004 and its largest number of transfer students in recent history. Overall, students from 47 states and 11 countries chose to come to Fort Lewis this year.

Of special note is the enrollment of 753 Native American students, the largest in Fort Lewis College history. More than 110 tribes have students attending Fort Lewis this year.

“I am very gratified that our enrollment shows an increase for the first time in a number of years,” says Fort Lewis College President Brad Bartel. “This is especially significant since the enrollment increase has come during our change to selective admissions within Colorado.”

Bartel highlighted the college’s improving reputation as a reason for the increase. “I credit the increased academic reputation of FLC across the nation and the hard work of our enrollment management team for this great success,” he said.

Local mustang lives up to his name

A recent slip up had one of the Southwest’s iconic stallions traveling throughout Colorado. Traveler, the lead stallion of the Spring Creek Wildhorse Herd near Dove Creek, was recently returned to the region.

The 17-year-old gray stallion was inadvertently sent up to the Cañon City Prison horse facility after the 2007 Spring Creek gather in late August. Because of his strong and dominant personality and good confirmation, he was scheduled to be returned to the herd after the 2007 gather. Instead, the horse was mistakenly shipped to the prison in Cañon City.

However, Traveler is now back with the herd, and the BLM reports that Traveler seems no worse for wear and will roam with his band of mares for many years to come. The herd management area covers more than 20,000 acres in Disappointment Valley. In the late 1800s, a Montana rancher brought the first horses to Disappointment Valley. This original ranch stock was eventually used by the U.S. Cavalry as military mounts. In 1940, area residents removed most of the herd, leaving behind a few horses that formed the present-day herd.

– Will Sands