Residents of Telluride, Colo., joined in a chorus of “This Land is Your Land” Wednesday afternoon May 9, just before Mayor John Pryor announced the mountain resort town had raised enough money to save more than 550 acres of natural area near its entrance.
“We have fought the good fight.
We have prevailed,” declared Pryor during a telephone press
As of May 8, the town was still a million and
a half short of the $50 million needed, but a last-minute donation
of over $2 million by Los Angeles film director Tom Shadyac,
“really knocked it out of the park,” said Pryor.
The fight over Telluride’s valley began more than a
decade ago, when landowner James Neal Blue sought to develop it
into new residential and commercial properties (see our story
Telluride tackles ski town sprawl). The town lies boxed
into a narrow mountain corridor with little room for expansion,
except for the valley floor at the town’s entrance.
But residents would rather the land remained wild. The valley
includes a section of the winding San Miguel River, is frequented
by elk and other wildlife, and showcases a blanket of bright yellow
wildflowers in the spring.
Despite numerous proposals and
compromises by Blue, residents repeatedly voted against building
plans, and instead sought to purchase the land through
condemnation. The land was originally appraised at $26 million, but
Blue disputed the appraisal and a Delta, Colo., jury awarded nearly
double the original assessment.
The town had an uphill
battle, for it had only $25.5 million available at the time of the
ruling last February. The Valley Floor Preservation Partners upped
their campaign in an ambitious effort to raise an additional $25
million by the May 10 deadline.
Residents and others rose
to the task: More than 1,700 contributed money. Some put second
mortgages on their homes; others sold personal belongings, and the
town established a local “wishing well” that itself
raised over $1 million. Thanks to efforts large and small,
Telluride not only met, but surpassed the price tag, raising $50.87
“We did this together,” said Todd
Creel, a board member of the Valley Floor Preservation Partners.
“This isn’t about politics, profit, or even about this
generation. This is a story about place and stewardship.”
Telluride’s struggle for the land is not over,
however. The town still has to win an appeal in order to condemn
Blue says he’s fighting for principle,
His attorney, Thomas Ragonetti of the Otten,
Johnson, Robinson, Neff and Ragonetti law firm in Denver, describes
Neal as a “man of principle” who resents people
“using the power of government to feather the nest of a rich
The case will go before the Colorado
Supreme Court sometime during the fall or early winter, and the
town hopes to have a decision by next spring.
meantime, residents of Telluride have reason to celebrate.
“This is one of those incredible occasions where a
small group came together” and succeeded “against all
odds,” said eBay CEO and donor Meg Whitman. “This
really is historic; you don’t see communities come together
like this that often.”