Snake-like developer sinks fangs into Telluride backcountry

Developer Tom Chapman has a parcel of land in Telluride's backcountry and now he's blocking skiers from traversing old guided routes that cross it. Chapman paid $246,000 for old mining claims in the Uncompahgre National Forest and probably is hatching a plan to build a luxury home there. Or at least threaten to build one.

As Jason Blevins writes in Saturday's Denver Post:

Chapman, 59, has a 26-year history in Colorado of finding obscure, seemingly undevelopable mining claims located in the middle of highly valuable land.

Threatening to build homes and roads on private islands inside federal wilderness or national parks has netted him millions. In several cases, the federal government has either paid his price or swapped him other parcels of public land in exchange for inholdings he said he planned to develop.

Blevins goes on to describe a plot of land inside Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park -- the park's high point actually -- where Chapman is threatening to build a mega-mansion. Some call it a shrewd business tactic. Others liken it to blackmail.

Another article in the Telluride Daily Planet by Reilly Capps describes Chapman as "smart in a bad way" via a quote from Colorado Wild's Rocky Smith.

More from Capps:

Many (or perhaps most) owners of high country real estate never take advantage of this opportunity for the simple reason that it's not easy to build a house on the side of a mountain. In Upper Bear Creek, for example, on Chapman's land, it seems like you could only build a cabin if you packed the materials in on mules. Or if you brought them in by helicopter.

Which seem like extreme measures -- measures Chapman has already taken. In one case, in 1992, in the West Elk Wilderness Area near Gunnison, he paid a helicopter to airlift tons of supplies in to build a house.

That kind of thing can trigger a bit of a panic attack in wilderness lovers. Linda Miller was one of many who recoiled at the idea of houses up there in the West Elk.

"West Elk is just beautiful," she said. "It would have been a travesty."

Here's a terrific blog post that also serves as a nice primer on Chapman from High Country News.
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Eric Peterson