The Bear Creek drainage now contains hike-to terrain beloved by backcountry enthusiasts willing to risk awesome avalanche danger in their quest for powder. Some of its users have voiced strong opposition to any expansion of the ski area into the area, while others passionately support the idea.
TSG Asset Holding, LLC purchased the 4.11-acre parcel known as the Dandy Lode from Fern M. Honstein of Grand Junction in early April for $24,700, according to documents recorded with the San Miguel County Clerk’s Office on April 5.
Riley said he had been in discussions with the seller about the property for approximately a year and a half prior to the purchase.
“It is a potential location for a lift, but we haven’t made the decision to move forward,” with the widely speculated expansion into Bear Creek, said Riley.
“The only other purpose besides potentially expanding into the area would be whether we’d want to trade that land somewhere down the road, or just hold it for a real estate investment.”
Apart from being potentially controversial, a ski area expansion into Bear Creek would require a lengthy review and ultimate approval by the U.S. Forest Service. Moreover, there are other private inholdings in the area, most of which is federal land. Real estate speculator Tom Chapman acquired some of them last month.
“We don’t intend to do that anytime soon,” Riley said of any move toward lift-served skiing in Bear Creek. “We’re still in the listening process.”
The Telski purchase came just days after the Gold Hill Development Company, a group of investors fronted by Chapman, closed on the purchase of about 40 acres in mining claims including the Modena, Gertrude and Little Bessie Lodes that run west from Delta Bowl, and a half interest in the separate Euclid Avenue Lode, for $246,000.
Chapman is notorious for his involvement in controversial land trades with the federal government, equally admired by private property rights advocates and criticized as extortionate by public lands proponents. Within days of that purchase the group announced that public access to the parts of popular backcountry ski and hiking routes that traverse its claims had been terminated.
Although the GHDC has not yet made public its plans for its newly acquired parcels, Chapman’s modus operandi has been to buy private in-holdings surrounded by or adjacent to public land, and then threatening to develop them in order to force lucrative land trades with the federal government.
One such dealing with local significance took place in the early 1990s. At that time Chapman began building a luxury log cabin on 240 acres in the West Elk Wilderness near Paonia that he purchased for $960,000, only stopping after negotiating a land trade with the Forest Service in which he got 105 acres near Telluride he later sold for more than $4 million.
At present, Chapman has plans to build a 25,000-square-foot mansion that will dominate the highest point in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Signal Hill, if achieved. He has already built one home in the park, a one-story 4,750-square-foot luxury home overlooking the canyon, complete with its own helicopter.
Although Telski’s Dandy Lode parcel is adjacent to the GHDC’s Modena Lode, Riley said the location and timing of his company’s purchase was coincidental, and not a strategic move related to the GHDC purchases.
“We’ve always got our ear to the ground for real estate purchases that may have value to us,” said Riley. “We’ve had a relationship with the [previous] owner for quite some time.”
And while the GDHC parcels appear as though they could block access to the Telski claim by skiers and snowboarders descending Bear Creek, Riley said that the topography is such that they do not.
“Tom Chapman’s property does not prohibit skiing in Bear Creek,” he said. “His property does not prevent a chairlift from going into that location.”
“It’s a strategic purchase,” he continued. “It may or may not come into play in the future and whether we propose expansion into Upper Bear Creek.”