New resort in the San Juans?

  • Activist Betty Feazel at her ranch east of Pagosa Springs

    Shaun Stanley/Denver Post
  Back in the 1980s, Pagosa Springs, Colo., resident Betty Feazel helped lead a successful campaign to stop a proposed ski area in the rugged, undeveloped San Juan River's East Fork Valley. But now, says the award-winning activist, who has lived in the area for 77 years, the fight may be starting all over again.

Back then, Chicago-based businessman Dan McCarthy, who owned 2,780 acres surrounded by San Juan National Forest, scrapped his plans for a ski area - in part because of the opposition. Now, Curt Fleming, a California-based real estate businessman, and Utah developer Gerald Sanders plan a members-only resort on 200 acres of the parcel, known as Piano Creek Ranch. Memberships in the gated resort will cost $385,000 to $535,000. Neil Armstrong and candy heiress Jacqueline Mars have already signed up.

Members of Friends of the East Fork Valley and the San Juan Citizens' Alliance say a high-end resort at Piano Creek threatens wildlife.

"It's a critical corridor between two wilderness areas, and prior to the lynx being reintroduced, (the valley) was the site of the most recent positive lynx identification," says Mark Pearson, member of the San Juan Citizens' Alliance and chair of the Sierra Club's wilderness committee in Colorado. "To put a fancy resort and all the contingent activity in that part of the state is completely inappropriate."

The Piano Creek land has already been zoned for resort construction by Mineral County, but the developers still need approval from the Forest Service to improve a federally owned, gravel access road. Jo Bridges, district ranger for the San Juan National Forest, says the Forest Service will accept comments on the proposal during a public scoping period slated for later this month.

Developer Fleming declined comment for this story, but he said in a July interview with The Denver Post that he and resort members were attracted to the East Fork because it is a pristine natural setting. He hopes to break ground in June.

* Ali Macalady

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