Public lands "blackmailer" returns

 

Loathed by government officials, recreationists and environmentalists alike, Colorado developer Tom Chapman is at it again. His latest deal exemplifies his typical modus operandi: buy inholdings in remote backcountry, threaten to develop them, and get big payouts from federal agencies desperate to protect pristine public lands. Now he's purchased 103 acres of mining claims in the Uncompaghre national forest -- the "treasured" Bear Creek drainage (near Telluride) -- and has closed the land to hiking and skiing, reports the Denver Post.

The Forest Service, which last month issued a one-year permit to Telluride Ski and Golf Co. allowing guided ski trips into the steep-and-deep Bear Creek drainage, said the closure would not affect guided operations.

In Telluride, skiers who value Bear Creek as the valley's best hill already are closely watching the ski area's plans for the drainage. Now, the skiers are planning routes around Chapman's closed land. A close view of the three parcels he acquired last month shows they are not connected.

Chapman first became notorious in 1984, when he and a client threatened Black Canyon National Park (then a monument) by starting to bulldoze roads for a subdivision of 132 homes overlooking the canyon. The Park Service eventually bought them out for more than $2 million, four times what the land was worth. In 1992 he bought a 240-acre inholding in the West Elk Wilderness Area and began helicoptering in supplies to build a luxury cabin. To stop him, the Forest Service traded him a 110-acre parcel near Telluride. Each chunk was worth $640,000, the agency said, but Chapman resold his for $4.2 million. In 2000, he declared that he would build trophy homes on mining claims in the Holy Cross Wilderness. (see our stories Tom Chapman: A small town boy who made good and Developer tries to make a killing off the Black Canyon). In 2003 he began auctioning on Ebay a 113-acre inholding in the Black Canyon. Chapman still has lots for sale within the park and is building a mansion  there.

Chapman hasn't announced plans for the Telluride parcel yet, but no doubt he'll soon be advertising the construction of a new lodge or the sale of luxury home parcels -- and waiting for the federal cash register to start ka-chinging. But with agency budgets trimmed to the bone, it's doubtful that the Forest Service will be able to pony up the cash it once did to buy out inholdings.

And It's long past time for the agencies to call the bluff of privateers like Chapman and fight fire with fire. As HCN's former publisher Ed Marston suggested over a decade ago:

When Chapman began building his log cabin in Colorado's West Elk Wilderness, a bill should have begun moving through Congress to strip the land around his 240 acres of wilderness status. At the same time, the Forest Service should have begun planning to road and log the land surrounding the inholding.
When Chapman threatened to bulldoze in a subdivision at the Black Canyon, the National Park Service should have begun planning a dump or a metal building next to his subdivision. Scorched earth should be met by scorched earth.
High Country News Classifieds
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Methow Valley Citizens Council has a distinguished history of advocating for progressive land use and environmental values in the Methow Valley and Okanogan County...
  • ACTING INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS DESK EDITOR
    High Country News is seeking an Acting Indigenous Affairs Editor to oversee the work of our award-winning Indigenous Affairs Desk while our editor is on...
  • GRANTS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Cinnabar Foundation seeks an enthusiastic, team-oriented and knowledgeable Grants Program Director to work from their home in Montana. Established in 1983, the Cinnabar Foundation...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Artemis Program Manager will work with National Wildlife Federation sporting and public lands staff to change this dynamic, continue to build upon our successful...
  • ALASKA SEA KAYAK BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Well-known and successful sea kayak, raft, hike, camp guiding & water taxi service. Sale includes everything needed to run the business, including office & gear...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND EVENTS PROGRAM COORDINATOR
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a detail-oriented and enthusiastic Membership and Events Coordinator to join our small, but mighty-fun team to oversee our membership...
  • PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT FACILITATOR
    ABOUT THE HIGH DESERT MUSEUM Since opening in 1982, HIGH DESERT MUSEUM has brought together wildlife, culture, art and natural resources to promote an understanding...
  • LAND STEWARD, ARAVAIPA
    Steward will live on-site in housing provided by TNC and maintains preserve areas frequented by the visiting public and performs land management activities. The Land...
  • DEVELOPMENT WRITER
    Who We Are: The Nature Conservancy's mission is to protect the lands and waters upon which all life depends. As a science-based organization, we create...
  • CONNECTIVITY SCIENCE COORDINATOR
    Position type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman preferred; remote negotiable Compensation: $48,000 - $52,000 Benefits: Major medical insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k,...
  • EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT
    ArenaLife is looking for an Executive Assistant who wants to work in a fast-paced, exciting, and growing organization. We are looking for someone to support...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Mountain Lion Foundation is seeking an Executive Director. Please see our website for further information - mountainlion.org/job-openings
  • WASHINGTON DC REPRESENTATIVE
    Position Status: Full-time, exempt Location: Washington, DC Position Reports to: Program Director The Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) is seeking a Washington, DC Representative...
  • REGIONAL CAMPAIGN ORGANIZER
    Position Title: Regional Campaign Organizers (2 positions) Position Status: Full-time, exempt Location: Preferred Billings, MT; remote location within WORC's region (in or near Grand Junction...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Driggs, ID based non-profit. Full time. Full job description available at tvtap.org. Submit cover letter and resume to [email protected]
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • SPRING MOUNTAINS SOLAR OFF GRID MOUNTAIN HOME
    Located 50 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada in the pine forest of Lee Canyon at 8000 feet elevation. One of a kind property surrounded...
  • MAJOR GIFTS MANAGER - MOUNTAIN WEST, THE CONSERVATION FUND
    Cultivate, solicit and steward a portfolio of 75-125 donors.
  • NATURE'S BEST IN ARAVAIPA CANYON
    10 acre private oasis in one of Arizona's beautiful canyons. Fully furnished, 2123 sq ft architectural custom-built contemporary home with spectacular views and many extras....
  • HEALTH FOOD STORE IN NW MONTANA
    Turn-key business includes 2500 sq ft commercial building in main business district of Libby, Montana. 406.293.6771 /or [email protected]