To a naturalist, Bear Creek is an endless adventure in ecosystems, while a geologist uncovers chapters of history written in the rock. It's a photographer's kaleidoscope, an artist's multi-hued palette, a spiritualist's meditationäand a furry friend's olfactory playground.
The Bear Creek Preserve is indeed many things to many people; a jewel of the community that has become ingrained as part of the Telluride experience. Bear Creek has not always been the irrefutable public domain it is today, however. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Bear Creek Preserve, a conservation feat that married the collective interests of community members, local governments and private landowners to protect the natural beauty of this local treasure for generations to come. To commemorate its 10 year milestone and bring the community together in renewed appreciation of Bear Creek Canyon, the San Miguel Conservation Foundation (the leading entity in the preservation of Bear Creek) is planning a weeklong community celebration beginning Monday.
The goal of the celebration is to take a look at what we've done as a community, says Gary Hickcox, director of SMCF. It's a chance to call attention to the community's real sense of pride and joy in its ownership of this amazing landscape, and to commemorate the fact that this is a place that will never be developed. In 100 years, Bear Creek will look almost exactly the same as it looks today.
Scheduled events include guided hikes throughout the week led by local experts, naturalists and educators like Chris Nance, Christina Callicott, Roberta Peterson, Linda Miller, Julie Evans, Jeannie Stewart, John Sir Jesse, and Sheila Grother. Staff from the San Juan Outdoor School will lead a climbing clinic at The Rock in Bear Creek on Saturday. On Friday from 4-7 p.m., locals are invited to bring their favorite photo, piece of art, historic story, or poem pertaining to Bear Creek to pin up on the community kiosk at an open house in the Roma Building on Colorado Ave. Bear Creek maps, commemorative 10 year anniversary water bottles and birthday cake will be available, and Whit Richardson's Bear Creek posters wiil be sold ($5 each) with proceeds going to SMCF. (See TK for a full schedule of events.)
We simply want to get people out there again, catch their breath and think about the last ten years, says Jane Hickcox, SMCF volunteer and event coordinator. It's not so much a party as a time to reflect on this community success story.
Adds Liva Coe, fellow SMCF volunteer and event coordinator: It will also just be nice for people to experience Bear Creek in a way they have perhaps never experienced it before. By engaging in the landscape and learning about the flora, fauna or history, people will be able to look at Bear Creek with new eyes.
Bear Creek Preserve's Path to Perpetuity
Bear Creek was a passion of the community long before its official preservation ten years ago, says 25-year Telluride resident Elaine Fischer, who was mayor of Telluride when the San Miguel Conservation Foundation was created to help purchase the property. It was all finally able to happen ten years ago, however, because a lot of people came together with all the tools necessary to make this situation occur.
It was, indeed, a serendipitous series of events that paved the way for the preservation of Bear Creek Canyon. The majority of what is considered to be Bear Creek (the wilderness areas on both sides of Bear Creek road) was originally three different mining claims owned by Gene Adams. In 1963, those mining claims, totaling 320 acres, were sold to Jack Hawkins, who sold the property to Phoenix-based couple Larry and Colleen Ragland in 1986.
Gary Hickcox, also a long-time Telluride local and past member of town government, remembers a sense of unease settling over the community when the Raglands purchased Bear Creek.
There was definitely a sense of concern within the community, because no one really knew the Raglands and feared they would develop the property, says Hickcox. But in reality, they turned out to be great stewards of Bear Creek.
The Raglands' willingness to realize the sacred value of Bear Creek, and thus refrain from developing it, was only one of the many fortuitous forces at work leading up to the area's eventual preservation. The next providential turn of events came in 1992, when low profile part-time Telluride resident Rich Salem quietly began an effort that would eventually lead to the creation of the SMCF and the subsequent preservation of Bear Creek Canyon. Salem, an east coast native who began visiting Telluride in the mid-1980s, admitted that, like many newcomers, he initially presumed that Bear Creek was in the public domain. When he discovered the area was not owned by the community and could potentially be developed, he put his experience with eastern land trusts to work to get the ball rolling for preserving the canyon. He set up a series of meetings with the Raglands to form a purchase deal to place ownership of the property under the entity of the newly created SMCF. Once purchased, the foundation would immediately donate a 49 percent share of the property to the Town of Telluride, with the remainder to be donated once the town and SMCF created a management plan and easement agreement for Bear Creek.
Telluride town government, which had made various attempts over the years to purchase the property, saw Salem's move as an important piece that would finally complete the Bear Creek purchase puzzle. Designing the complete Bear Creek purchase deal was far from simple, however, and it took close to three years for all the pieces to fall into place.
To begin, Telluride voters faced a ballot question that, if passed, would allocate 20 percent off the top of all sales, real estate and other taxes for open space purposes. The eventual passage of this ballot initiative gave town councilmembers the reassurance they needed to move forward with the project.
The commitment on the part of the community to pass the ballot question really made the statement that the people of Telluride were ready and willing for this to happen, says Fischer. All the forces that came together to make this happen a generous benefactor, willing sellers and a committed community made the purchase of Bear Creek a highlight of my time in Telluride town government. It was a dream come true for me and I'm sure for many others, and was a true moment of glory for the community.
It was very fortunate that there was both private and public support for this project, and that for the most part the whole community became unified to preserve and restore something as precious as Bear Creek, says Salem. Creating something åin perpetuity' honors the beauty and majesty that is here today and assures that it will continue to be here for decades to come. That, in and of itself, is a tremendous gift this community gave to its future generations. It also became a role model for successful land preservation, and offered proof positive that a community like Telluride can do well by doing well.
Since the 1995 creation of the Bear Creek Preserve, SMCF has successfully added 100 additional acres to the original preserve and has also assisted in the protection of more than 6,000 acres across the region. The seed that sprouted with the preservation of Bear Creek continues to grow, evidenced by the ongoing SMCF preservation projects in Ophir's Waterfall Canyon, in the county's West End and more.