For 35 years conservation groups, outdoor enthusiasts, and local residents have fought to protect Wolf Creek Pass in southwestern Colorado and Rocky Mountain Wild has been involved for 20 of those years. At over 10,000 feet in elevation, the pass connects two wilderness areas and is a hot spot for biodiversity. Wildlife, including black bear, elk, and the rare Canada lynx use this area to move between large undeveloped swaths of forest. Irreplaceable fen wetlands are the home to hundreds of plant and bird species. And, the deep winter snowpack provides much-needed water to downstream communities and agriculture.
The pass is also the home of Wolf Creek Pass Ski Area, one of Colorado’s last remaining family-owned ski areas. Wolf Creek is cherished for providing a nostalgic ski experience. Free from traffic, long lines, condos, nightclubs and chain restaurants, skiers at Wolf Creek are treated to deep powder at affordable prices.
Unfortunately, a questionable land exchange in 1986 gave Texas billionaire B.J. “Red” McCombs a private parcel at the base of the ski area. Mr. McCombs and his business partners have repeatedly tried to develop a massive “village” for 8,000-10,000 people on this site. They have been stopped by the Courts, who have consistently found that the developers have not conducted a complete environmental analysis of their scheme.
The “Village” at Wolf Creek threatens:
- One of the most important wildlife movement corridors in the nation and the most important wildlife linkage in the San Juan Mountains,
- Irreplaceable fen wetlands and an essential water resource for downstream communities,
- Species, such as the Canada lynx that were reintroduced to the region that would be stressed with the increased traffic, outdoor lighting, noise, and habitat fragmentation,
- A large source of carbon sequestration in the area,
- The simple, bare-bones characteristics of the Wolf Creek Ski Area skiers and snowboarders love,
- Scenic views of the Continental Divide and Wolf Creek Pass currently enjoyed by visitors,
- The economies of local communities like South Fork and Pagosa Springs that depend on tourists, as well as the counties of Rio Grande and Archuleta that would support the emergency services of the development, while the tax income would be conveyed to Mineral County.
The Land Exchange
On December 11, 2018, a federal appeals court dismissed the latest attempt from the would-be developers of the Village at Wolf Creek to reinstate a land exchange rejected by a federal judge on Endangered Species Day in May 2017. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver dismissed the developer’s appeal, based on a lack of appellate jurisdiction. The dismissal leaves in place the District Court’s findings, as well as its invalidation of the land exchange.
In May 2017, Senior Federal Judge Richard Matsch found that the Forest Service’s environmental analysis violated federal law, and set aside the Forest Service’s approval of a land exchange that would have facilitated the construction of a large scale resort.
The Road Access Project
The Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture sent a letter to the Forest Service on January 12, 2018, demanding immediate increased access to their inholding so they could “begin development of the private land immediately.” On July 19, 2018, the Rio Grande National Forest announced its intention to circumvent Judge Matsch’s May 2017 federal court ruling that invalidated prior approvals for the controversial Village at Wolf Creek real estate development and grant their demand.
Friends of Wolf Creek began a letter writing and petition campaign, but the Forest Service tried to severely limit who could protest this action by limiting objections to those who “previously submitted specific written comments regarding the proposed project during scoping or comments on the draft EIS” in 2012.
On October 17, 2018, supporters who did not have standing to object by the Forest Service’s definition began to receive rejections to their objections. However, so did people who should have had standing.
On November 20, 2018, the Forest Service issued a Response to Objections on the Village at Wolf Creek Access Project, rejecting all objections to the project.
On February 27, 2019, Rio Grande National Forest Supervisor Dan Dallas signed a Final Record of Decision that could result in an easement to facilitate construction of the massive “Village.”
For an in-depth, chronological history of this case, visit the Friends of Wolf Creek Background page.
The Administrative Record is the paper trail that documents an agency’s decision-making process and the basis for the agency’s decision. Here is a link to the administrative record provided by the Forest Service on their decision to approve the land exchange with Red McCombs.
Donate to the Cause
Court battles like these aren’t cheap. If you’d like to support our battle to keep Wolf Creek Pass wild, please donate on our GivingFuel page. Select “Friends of Wolf Creek” under “Direct My Donation.”