Valley Floor: 10th Anniversary Celebration, 6/1-6/3

Valley Floor: 10th Anniversary Celebration, 6/1-6/3

Save the date. The celebration of 10th anniversary of Telluride’s Valley Floor acquisition to take place Thursday – Saturday, June 1-3, 2017. The extended Telluride community is invited to raise its voice in hosannas to one of Telluride’s most iconic and well-loved public open spaces and commemorate the hard-fought battle for its preservation. 

Following Mountainfilm, mark your calendars for the launch the Valley Floor weekend. On June 1, coinciding with Telluride Arts’ first Art Walk of the season, Ah Haa is hosting a show of work celebrating the Valley Floor submitted by the greater Telluride community. The evening also includes a performance by the Telluride Dance Collective.  Seating is limited, so drop by Ah Haa to pick up your tickets. That same day, the Telluride Historical Museum opens its summer exhibit, which looks back to the past and forward to the future of the Valley Floor. 

I’m an absolutist when it comes to the Valley Floor. It’s a treasure for Telluride, as well as for the state and the nation. It should most certainly be preserved and kept intact or it will change the character of the town forever. I’m not for compromises on this one. It’s a magical moment when you hit that field, driving in from Montrose or the Telluride airport. I don’t understand why people would want to compromise that,” said former Ambassador Richard Holbrooke back when.

People didn’t.

Scroll down to watch a video, “Always & Forever: Telluride’s Valley Floor,” made by the Telluride Tourism Board.

Image, Gary Hickcox

Herds of grazing elk, darting prairie dogs, skate skiers, mountain bikers, fields of yellow dandelions, and a meandering river that once again follows its natural channel. All that rolls up into one majestic image as monumental as any Bierstadt painting. It is the splendiferous landscape that is Telluride’s front yard, now and forever preserved in perpetuity, amen.

But once upon a decade or so ago, the future of the 570-acre gateway to Telluride was shaded in doubt: under threat of development, could the Valley Floor remain forever wild?

The prologue to that story begins like this: in 1999, the owner of the Valley Floor, The San Miguel Valley Corp, presented a plan for developing the property, which then, in a blink, came under dispute. The company wanted to build a hotel/condo cluster of 300,000-400,000 square feet, with retail and parking, an 18-hole golf course, and two small lakes. (For more on the facts, go here.)

Image, Ben Knight


Valley Floor rally, Ben Knight.

In the end, protecting and preserving what is now home to wildlife and sacred to outdoor enthusiasts took a small army of volunteers, elected officials, donors, environmentalists, historic preservationists, and others in the Telluride community. The exhaustive, exhausting process involved planning and negotiating, four Town of Telluride ballot measures, a drawn-out legal battle ending in an unprecedented Colorado Supreme Court decision, and three months of frenzied fundraising to come up with the court-ordered $50 million to buy the Valley Floor.


Victory, image, Ben Knight

Early this summer, June 1-3, 2017, the Valley Floor Preservation Partners (VFPP) plans to help the Telluride community mark the 10th anniversary of the Town of Telluride’s acquisition and preservation of the Valley Floor by hosting a series of events to celebrate the ground-breaking effort, at the same time educating those who have joined the community within the last 10 years. The Big Idea is for everyone in the Telluride region to be able to enjoy the historical, cultural, and ecological treasures the Valley Floor (thankfully) still has to offer.

Given the fact that the Valley Floor is the welcome mat at Telluride’s front door, it is clear why so many full- and part-time residents spent so much time and money to save the place as open space. But really, the most compelling argument comes down to a time-worn cliché – a picture is worth 1,000 words


Autumn on the Valley Fllor, image, Ryan Bonneau.


To the developer, “Go fly a kite.” Image, Melissa Plantz.


Elk on Valley Floor, courtesy Amy Levek.


Elk crossing San Miguel, image, Jack Pera.


Prairie dogs, image, Jane Hickcox, board secretary, Valley Floor Preservation Partners.


Another Valley Floor denizen, a badger Image, Gary Hickcox.


Fly fishing on Valley Floor, Ben Knight.


Fishing (again) on San Miguel, Valley Floor, image Ben Knight.


Ducks floating the San Miguel on Valley Floor. Image, Jane Hickcox.


People floating San MIguel on Valley Floor, (or SUP). Image, Brett Schreckengost.


Cross-country skiing on Valley Floor. Image, Melissa Plantz.


Spring aspens, image, Carl Marcus.


Storm Over the Valley Floor, image, Carl Marcus.


Power Lines over Valley Floor, image, Amy Levek.


Dandelions on Valley Floor, image, Amy Levek.


Snow scene, Valley Floor. Image, Brett Schreckengost.


Panorama of Valley Floor. Image, Brett Schreckengost.


Sunset, image John Richter.


Poetry of the Valley Floor, image, John Richter.

Summary of weekend activities:

On Thursday June 1, the Telluride Historical Museum will unveil its summer exhibit dedicated to the history and future of the Valley Floor. The installation will span from the geological record of the Valley Floor, through the brief, but all-consuming fundraising campaign into present day ecological conditions and what the future holds for this treasured Town-owned open space.

During Telluride Arts’ June 1 Art Walk and in partnership with the Valley Floor Preservation Partners, the Ah Haa School will mark the anniversary with an exhibit of works honoring the Valley Floor submitted by the greater Telluride community.

“Love Your Valley” is a non-juried show meant to celebrate the Valley Floor and examine Telluride’s relationship to this protected piece of open space. From nordic skiing to biking to forest bathing and simply watching the grazing elk (or prairie dogs), everyone is invited to share the love.

Go here to submit your work. All entries accepted.

On June 1, there will also be a performance at Ah Haa featuring Art Goodtimes, Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, Elissa Dickson, the Telluride Dance Collective, and others.

Friday, June 2 will recreate the excitement of the inaugural Valley Floor Day with a party in Elks Park, including music, food, drinks, activities for kids, and guest speakers.

Films, speakers, and poets are on tap for Saturday, June 3, at the historic Sheridan Opera House.

In addition, throughout the weekend the public will be able to experience the Valley Floor by walking the grounds with historians, scientists, and Town officials. Participants will learn about the wildlife, ecology, plants, climate science, and history of the now-protected land.

“To be sure, the Telluride we cherish as ‘home’ today has a storied past; and while our stories have often been of hardship and challenge, they have always been alive with passion and rich with citizen-characters, daring to dream,” stated Jane Hickcox, VFPP Board of Directors. “The story of the protection of Telluride’s Valley Floor is all of those things. This summer we celebrate the 10th Anniversary of that milestone in our community’s history. It’s a love story. It’s a success story. It’s your story. I am excited to reflect on that historic journey and to celebrate our community’s having stood up with vision and resolve to set us and this valley apart from any ordinary landscape.”

A history of the Valley Floor and preservation campaign:

Image, courtesy Telluride Museum.


A Signature Landscape

Telluride is a National Historic Landmark District located at the end of a glacially formed box canyon; the Valley Floor its gateway, a landscape that distinguishes this mountain resort town from others. To access the Town of Telluride one crosses the Valley Floor; three miles of mountain meadows clustered with cottonwoods, evergreens and wetlands. UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke said in 2003, “It’s a magical moment when you hit that field, driving from Montrose or the Telluride airport.”


Formerly the summer hunting and camping grounds of Ute Tribes and later the site of San Miguel City, placer mining and dairy farms, the south side of the Valley Floor saw only cattle grazing from the 1950’s through 2007. Residential development lines the north side of the highway leading to Telluride, while the south side—a parcel of approximately 570 acres—remained open space. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, the nation’s largest preservation organization, placed the Valley Floor on its list of “America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places” in 2001.


Although mining and agriculture have impacted this landscape, studies indicate that it retained its biological integrity and diversity. The area is a deer and elk corridor and occasionally see the elusive Canada lynx. A scientific study conducted by Sustainable Ecosystems Institute in 2002 yielded at least five new species, a new genus of insect and confirmed the valley as habitat for the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher.

A 3-mile reach of the San Miguel River, one of the few remaining undammed rivers in Colorado, flows through the length of the property. Six perennial tributaries feed the river within the Valley Floor.

Aquatic ecosystems are critical habitat for native species and richest in species diversity, supporting a host of amphibians, resident and migrating birds, fish, mammals, insects and plants. In the Southern Rockies, biologists have found that wetlands and riparian ecosystems support 80 percent of vertebrates. The Valley Floor comprises the largest complex of riparian, wetland and fen (ancient peat wetlands) ecosystems in the San Miguel Watershed. These wetlands purify water by filtering sediment and pollutants. They store water to supply the river during the low runoff periods of fall and winter. They mitigate down-valley flooding. Ecologically, the Valley Floor is the heart of the San Miguel Watershed.

A Citizen’s Initiative for Open Space

In 2002, a citizen-initiated ordinance was presented to the voters of Telluride. It asked the Telluride Town Council to pursue eminent domain—a government’s right to acquire private property for “public use” for “just compensation,” also known as condemnation. The ordinance, which passed by a 63 percent majority, stipulated that upon acquisition of the property, Telluride would place the land under a conservation easement to be preserved as open space in perpetuity.

The Colorado Constitution grants local governments the power of eminent domain. Municipalities like Boulder, Colorado used eminent domain to acquire open space, as did New York City to acquire the land for Central Park. In March 2004, Telluride filed a petition for condemnation.

The Legal Case

Soon after, the landowner of the Valley Floor, San Miguel Valley Corporation (SMVC) lobbied State lawmakers to add an amendment to an eminent domain bill. House Bill 1203 intended to curb condemnation abuses in urban renewal settings, preventing governments from condemning property and selling it to private developers…

Continue reading here.

A perspective from actress and environmental activist Daryl Hannah:

When my parents found the Telluride Valley, in the mid-’70s, it was like we discovered a rare exquisite jewel—and even though the town has changed so much (every empty square inch developed)—I’m sure for many people seeing it for the first time now, it somehow still holds that same allure.

My father, Jerry Wexler, was a very successful developer from Chicago. When he fell in love with Telluride, he had the opportunity to purchase and develop hundreds of thousands of acres. It would have meant many millions of dollars to him, but he chose not to. To him, as to me, Telluride was a refuge, a natural paradise, and he wanted to enjoy it that way. He didn’t want to be responsible for undoing the very thing that made it so beautiful and special.

It’s a haven for wildlife, a respite from fast food chains and corner malls. A place where you can imagine stepping back in time and letting the fresh air and open spaces carry your anxieties away.

But those open spaces are becoming endangered. It would be an irreversible mistake to develop the Valley Floor. The Valley Floor is our entrance; it sets the tone. At this point it is what keeps us from being like those other ski towns: “A mall with a mountain…”

Continue reading here.

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