Fight To Save
The Rocky Mountains
By Joshua Frank
31 August, 2007
year I find myself in Colorado attempting to put a few miles between
my overburdened mind and the mechanized drone of Southern California.
The allure of the Rocky Mountains has once again compelled an escape.
A tempered abandonment from the rat race. This spot, just south of the
summit town of Breckenridge, at an elevation of around 11,500 feet,
is known as alpine country. Up here, while scraping the sky, one comes
to appreciate that we truly are a product of the soil and not the other
way around. It is just too bad that the gluttonous developers below
the tree line don't value this geomorphic wonder for the same reason.
Colorado is best known for
its winter resorts. Vacationers from all over the world fly in to the
sleek Denver International Airport so their well-heeled families can
experience the fresh powder of these sloping ranges. Thus the contractors
expand the ski runs, build condos, five star hotels, steak houses, shopping
centers, and coma inducing day spas. All the luxuries of New York City
right here in the heart of the Rockies. But I wouldn't call these gracious
comforts; I'd call these privileged communities monstrosities of the
If there ever were a reason
to resist the triumphs of capitalism, these little industrial vistas
set in the Rocky Mountains would be it. The sheer destruction of biodiversity
is not something that need be celebrated. Instead it must be challenged.
In 1998 misguided Earth Liberation
Front (ELF) radicals allegedly torched some buildings and ski lifts
in Vail, not all that far from here. As of last year a few of these
activists, after being targeted by the feds and a FBI collaborator,
began serving prison time for the arson. Others who still face indictments
continue to remain at large. But sparking matches in the middle of the
night isn't a brave action, it was a reactionary one -- not to mention
shortsighted as Vail later rebuilt its resort with even grander and
more damaging results. Insurance pays.
In order to halt the ruination
of these untamed places, a concerted effort among the citizens of Colorado
must lead the way for the effort to have any real, lasting impact. Colorado
Wild, an environmental outfit that focuses its energies on fighting
ski hill expansions, has taken the helm and has had more success than
the Vail arsonists in fighting the purveyors of unbridled
Right now the group, along
with Friends of Wolf Creek, are hoping to stop the construction of a
10,000 person village in the middle of the San Juan Mountains, one of
the snowiest regions of Colorado. The investor for the project is Texas
billionaire Billy Joe "Red" McCombs who owns the Minnesota
Vikings and co-founded Clear Channel Communications. In 2005 Forbes
rated McCombs as one of the 400 richest Americans.
The "Village at Wolf
Creek" is to be constructed just below the Continental Divide,
where the mighty rivers of the West split and race to their respective
homes. McCombs' vision, not unlike that of Pete Seibert and Earl Eaton
who built the township near Vail, is sustained by greed and a rampant
disregard for the wild. Like most capitalists, McCombs is in it for
the money and status. Nothing more.
Right now the fight over
the blueprints for Village at Wolf Creek still remain in the courts.
For the moment at least, Colorado Wild and their allies seem to be fending
off the moneyed interests of Red McCombs. In October 2005 Colorado 12th
District Judge O. John Kuenhold threw out the Mineral County's approval
of the resort development on the grounds that it would not have suitable
access to the highway. Colorado Wild had one small victory in its pocket
and was hoping that more would come.
Most recently, on August
22, after a long awaited appeal by McCombs and company to Judge Kuenhold's
2005 decision, and with a cross-suit by Colorado Wild and Wolf Creek
Ski Area, the three members of the Colorado Court of Appeals finally
heard the appeals and focused almost solely on the issue of road access.
The district judge in the previous hearing had upheld the other portions
of the county's approval for development.
As of now the only road that
accesses the McComb property, which accounts for 287 acres, is Forest
Service Road 391. Like most skid roads and other rough Forest Service
paths cut through these alpine regions, 391 is narrow, unpaved, and
closed for most of the year. McCombs no doubt would like to expand 391
and make it available to intrepid tourists year-round.
McComb's team argued that
their client has legal access to his property. On the other hand, Andrew
Shoemaker, the ski area's lawyer who has sided with Colorado Wild, said
the dirt road is not suited for grandiose development, which even includes
a power plant.
"If one occupant of
the 10,000 occupants is traveling out and you're traveling in, you don't
have access. You're obstructed," Shoemaker told the court. "It
would be different if they had proposed a hunting lodge. But this is
a Texas-sized development. They wanted the whole shebang."
Besides 391, the Forest Service
has authorized two additional roads, to which Colorado Wild challenged
in federal court and was victorious. For a while anyway. U.S. District
Judge John Kane temporarily stopped McCombs from developing the proposed
roads. The latest proceedings of the Colorado Court of Appeals may take
months to finalize. In the meantime, Colorado Wild is keeping up the
"There's no immediate
threat [that construction will start]," Ryan Demmy Bidwell, executive
director of Colorado Wild, told the Durango Herald. "There's roughly
two months left of snow-free season, and then that window rapidly closes
So the battles rage on by
a courageous few to protect the freedom of the wild in these desolate,
iconic parts of the Rocky Mountains. If the courts don't side with the
legally-inclined environmentalists who want to preserve this wilderness
for black bears and not for vacationers, Red McCombs and his investors
can be certain that other radical activists will take to the
Forest Service roads to confront the development of our untrammeled
Joshua Frank is the co-editor of DissidentVoice.org,
and author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush,
and along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of the forthcoming Red
State Rebels, to be published by AK Press in July 2008.
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