Herndon:Open Space, an Idea With ‘Legs’ | Dateline Wright’s Mesa
by Grace Herndon
Jul 18, 2007 | 716 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Even though someone had told me it was coming, it was a shock to actually see the old 1950s era structures at the beautiful San Miguel Ranch site knocked down. Like some bombed out neighborhood in Beirut, a few walls still stood, but the life of the old place had simply slipped away.

The column I would write, then, would tell the story of the history of this lovely river land, lying snug along the banks of the San Miguel River, sheltered by towering old cottonwoods and the canyon walls that formed this place. Located about a mile southeast of the Norwood Bridge and the climb up Highway 145 to crest at a panoramic view of Wright’s Mesa and the Norwood-Lone Cone area, the Ranch’s history mirrored a century or more of changes.

But, along the way, like life, this story took unexpected turns. In fact, instead of a nostalgic look into the past, this story looks to great new possibilities. First, though, let me bring you up to date. For more than 25 years, this special place was known as The Canyon Chapel Ministries at the San Miguel Ranch. Michelle Christiansen and her brother, Clint Perry, along with their families, had created a secluded, low key sanctuary for those who needed a helping hand.

While the mission was Christian in origin, helping those who were down on their luck, injured or abused was the Ministries cause. The main building, a restaurant and central lodge built in the late 60s, worked well for the communal meals the shelter group provided. Some 10 small, single and “duplex” cinderblock “cabins” – motel rooms for the 60s era San Miguel Ranch commercial lodging enterprise – provided housing for Ministry clients.

But before that, this idyllic river canyon location was home to a variety of enterprises. Exact history is hard to come by, but locals here recall remnants of stories that tell a mixed tale. In about 1892, the spot was headquarters for a working ranch. Cattle grazed up and down the river canyon. Sometime after that, logging operations took over. Clint Perry points out the old logging wagon that sits there today as testimony to the mining timbers hauled from the old ranch site up the San Miguel River Road (such as it was) to the big mines in Telluride.

Fast forward to the 1950s. Montrose businessman Roy Schultz acquired the land and built the “cabins,” but by about 1964 he was ready to sell the place – by now well known as the San Miguel Ranch. Raymond and Phyllis Snyder, young Norwood area ranchers partnered with La Sal, Utah’s legendary rancher-businessman Charlie Redd, purchased the place at auction. Raymond, now something of a legendary Norwood-Lone Cone area rancher in his own right, says he and Phyllis added the restaurant and bar, but soon decided this and a guided hunting business just wasn’t their style.

The Perry family acquired the property in 1979, aided by present owner, Norman Miller of Dallas, who believed in the mission of the newly formed Canyon Chapel Ministries. Now, Miller, in turn, has put the 52-acre parcel on the market. Earlier this year, Mountain Village officials created a public uproar when they eyed the Ranch for employee housing. Village leaders declared that they were facing a housing “crisis,” but despite San Miguel County Commissioners enthusiasm for the idea, the public said, (very loudly) “No way.”

Nevasca broker Eric Fellenius, it turns out, is no cold-hearted Telluride real estate guy. When I called to ask about his ideas for the possible future development of the property we soon fell into a congenial conversation, both speaking almost reverently about what made this place so special.

Clint Perry had told me earlier that the place had such tranquil beauty – the big trees, three lovely ponds, the swinging bridge across the river – it seemed to almost possess healing powers. For troubled families, at-risk kids and others in need, the location alone seemed to renew hope. But Eric said, because it’s zoned A-F – one house per 35 acres – “in the end” it would probably contain one residential unit and perhaps a guesthouse.

Hmm, I thought, another trophy house. Well, you know, I’d always hoped it would be converted to public land, some sort of open space, I told Eric. He felt the same way, he allowed. Then (lyrical horns sounds here) he said, “Maybe the BLM is the answer – maybe a possible trade. Or The Nature Conservancy.” Eric said the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is actively into trading for special sites.

It’s true – hope does indeed spring eternal. When, in separate conversations, I ran Eric‘s suggestion by San Miguel County Commissioners Joan May and Art Goodtimes, they both said the equivalent of “very interesting idea.” Art, always quick to see future possibilities, said the county might even try for a state GOCO (Great Outdoors Colorado) open space grant – then warming to the idea – added that San Miguel County might even use some of its new-found oil and gas revenues as matching funds for such a grant. (I couldn’t catch up with Commissioner Elaine Fisher, but that can come later.)

After Telluride’s spectacular $50 million fundraiser to save – and purchase – the Valley Floor, I just think almost anything is possible. The sale price on this choice little parcel is a mere $1.65 million. Plus, more and more the term “public open space” has, as they say, “legs.”

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