“You can’t underestimate the power of people! If they are tied to a place, they will find the expertise they need, they will educate themselves, and they will stand up and say No, you can’t destroy this wetland, or log this old growth forest.”
– Linda Miller, founding member of Sheep Mountain Alliance
TELLURIDE – The seats always seem to face forward on the locomotive of time.
Time’s steady march onward is especially meaningful for environmentalists, since it’s the future that these guardians are, ultimately, trying to protect. Their efforts to effect a more delicate path forward are efforts dedicated to lives that are yet to come, and the hopeful expectation that the future will be green and vibrant.
But what is the future without the legacy of the past?
In Telluride, environmental history could have been written in a blacker, more caustic hand had a few citizens not endeavored to steer a more conscious course.
Sheep Mountain Alliance, the grassroots citizens’ organization dedicated to the defense of the natural environment in the Telluride region and beyond, has emerged as the backbone of the community’s passion for preserving quality of life for its citizens, human and otherwise. This summer marks the organization’s 20th anniversary, and to celebrate, SMA is throwing a birthday party to which the entire community is invited.
The party, a celebration of “Wild Things,” will take place Sunday, Aug. 3, at the X Café (formerly Chair 8). SMA’s annual meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m., with the election of three new board members. Dinner starts at 6:30 p.m., and the Turkey Creek Ramblers band will start around 7 p.m.
And with a nod to vintage Telluride parties of the past, SMA’s Wild Things will resurrect the spirits of the defunct Telluride Gin Festival, with regionally crafted Jackalope Gin being served “’til it’s gone.” Entry costs $15 for members and $25 for nonmembers.
Sunday night is the perfect time for residents of the Telluride region who are not yet SMA members to join; the ultimate objective of the evening is to commemorate the organization that has served as an amplifier for the voices of concerned Telluride citizens throughout the last two decades.
“No issues are going to be crammed down your throat,” assures SMA Director Hilary White of the Sunday celebration. “We will be asking for memberships, but really it’s just going to be a super fun party to celebrate past environmental victories and to celebrate Sheep Mountain.”
The recent acquisition of the Valley Floor by the Town of Telluride serves as one of the most notable “wins” chalked up by local environmental interests lately; SMA was instrumental in initiating the momentum to help stave off development on the property and preserve it as open space. Yet SMA’s influence in local and regional environmental matters goes far beyond the recent battle over the fate of the Valley Floor. In fact, many of the organization’s founding members identify the group’s first campaign, to stop the Forest Service from logging on Sheep Mountain, as its most significant and distinguishing crusade.
Saving Sheep Mountain
Two decades ago, lifelong Telluride resident Jack Pera was paging through the local newspaper and saw an alarming notice: The Forest Service was planning a timber cut on Sheep Mountain. It was 1988, and Telluride was feeling the effects of becoming a tourist-oriented ski town fed by development. “I knew what would happen if they went ahead with it – that was back when the Forest Service was heavy into clear-cutting, and I didn’t want to see it devastated,” Pera says.
Pera soon discovered that he wasn’t alone in his concern for the future of Sheep Mountain. He hit main street with a petition protesting the pending clear-cut, and says he was surprised at how many people were disturbed enough by the proposal to publicly speak out against it.
One of those people was Art Goodtimes.
“Pamela Zoline and I had talked about trying to form a new citizen group after an earlier group had more or less folded following Rick Silverman's lawsuit against the ski area,” Goodtimes recalls. “We both saw the unpopular Forest Service action as an opportunity, so I called a meeting.”
That meeting, held in the Sheridan Opera House and attended by about 20 people, formed the nucleus of what would eventually become Sheep Mountain Alliance.
Pera was named the first president, and Goodtimes was the vice-president. Other members included then and current Telluriders Zoline, Lito Tejada-Flores, Phil and Linda Miller, Mary Ann Gaskin, Paul Finney, Lisa Foxwell, Bob and Corinne Brickell, George Greenbank, and Rick Silverman. The group, which christened itself as Sheep Mountain Alliance, quickly got to work raising awareness about the project and compiling a well-researched argument against it.
“When you make a stand it can be kind of lonesome. But when you create a network of people who are all passionate about something, it gives you the sense that yes, you are on the right track,” says SMA founding member Linda Miller.
Included in that local network were people like Phil Miller, who had recently retired from the Forest Service and was thus able to craft a discerning argument against its proposed action. Also spearheading the local effort to stop the cut was Jim Davidson, who along with Goodtimes wrote a series of articles in the San Miguel Journal that outlined the plan. (They also were the masterminds behind an April Fool’s edition that boasted a computer collage photo of condos in the meadows of Sheep Mountain.)
After the newly formed Sheep Mountain Alliance won the fight against the Forest Service’s plan to log Sheep Mountain, the victory could easily have faded into the annals of Telluride history. But Goodtimes and other members of SMA felt that with the momentum sparked by the Sheep Mountain success, the group could continue to fight for environmental protection in the region. They joined the Western Colorado Congress, an organization formed in 1980 with its mission to “challenge injustice by organizing people to increase their power over decisions that affect their lives.” SMA proceeded to play a pivotal role in halting plans for a low-level radioactive waste dump near Uravan; the organization continues to speak out against harmful mining, oil and gas projects threatening public lands in southwest Colorado.
Current SMA Director White calls the organization’s first environmental crusade and ultimate victory over logging on Sheep Mountain “unprecedented,” and “a huge public lands victory.” Today, the organization continues to breath life into the flame sparked by that singular environmental battle first initiated in the late 1980s. SMA played a leading role in creating the San Juan Mountain Wilderness Act, which upon introduction would help protect the region’s undeveloped lands. The group also helped spearhead the community’s initiative to reduce plastic bag use and stop junk mail waste.
Sunday’s Wild Things party offers an opportunity for the community to celebrate SMA’s environmental victories, but it’s also a chance for new members to become involved with the grassroots group. SMA’s goal for 2008 is to double its membership, which currently stands at close to 200.
“I think we have the potential to be a very effective voice on the local and regional level, but on a national level as well,” SMA’s White says. “But in order to do that we need to reach out to more members of the community.”
For more information on Sunday’s event, or to become a member of SMA, visit its website: www.sheepmountainalliance.org.