Ambitious hikers eager to scale all of Colorado's 54 "fourteeners" almost had one less peak to cross off their list.
Texas developer Rusty Nichols owns a 300-acre patchwork
of mining claims on Wilson Peak, a 14,017-foot-tall mountain in
southwestern Colorado whose image adorns calendars, posters and
Coors beer cans worldwide. Last July, citing liability concerns,
Nichols barred public access across his land and blocked the only
non-technical route to the summit.
followed the Forest Service's rejection of his proposal to exchange
2,200 acres of public land on Wilson Mesa for his 300 acres. Dee
Closson of the Norwood Ranger District says the proposed trade
simply was not equitable. Nearby property similar to the "grassy
aspen plots" Nichols wanted has appraised at $15,000 to $25,000 per
acre, she says. Land near Nichols' claims appraised at $6,250 per
Based on those numbers, Nichols would have traded
real estate worth less than $2 million for public lands worth at
least $33 million.
Now, Nichols has applied to the agency
for a road-use permit to mine gold. "I'm just trying to derive some
income from these (claims)," he says, "since neither the Forest
Service nor anyone else has shown interest in trading."
Meanwhile, Tom Anderson, president of the Telluride Mountain Club,
says mountaineering groups have scouted out a new summit route that
avoids Nichols' property. "Some of it is off-trail, and it has some
rock fall. But at least it's an option," he says. "We're trying to
avoid having another Culebra Peak."
On that fourteener in
southern Colorado, a private landowner charges hikers for access.
Such a "pay-to-play system," says Anderson, "goes against my basic
beliefs about public land and access to it."