3,000 Acres Near Red Mountain, CO, Protected

OURAY, CO, 10/21/01 – The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national nonprofit land conservation organization, announced today that it has purchased more than 3,000 acres of endangered land in the mountains above Ouray, Colorado. The land will be conveyed to the U.S. Forest Service for permanent protection from development. The deal completes the critically important first phase of the Red Mountain project in the San Juan mountains in Southwestern Colorado.

“This is some of the most historically and ecologically important high-mountain land in Colorado, ” said Doug Robotham, Colorado State Director for the Trust for Public Land.

Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., as a member of the Senate Appropriations Interior Subcommittee, played a key role in securing federal funding for the project. Campbell said, “When I requested the support of Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman (Sen. Robert) Byrd and Interior Subcommittee ranking member (Sen. Conrad) Burns, I explained in detail why Red Mountain needs these funds and how the money would be used. These funds were included in the Interior bill after it became clear that they were essential to the acquisition of several thousand acres to preserve abandoned mine structures and to keep the area free of development.”

The 3,056-acre parcel consists of 402 separate mining claims surrounded by the Uncompahgre and San Juan National Forests. It lies at elevation of between 9,000 and 13,500 feet and is located near the summit of Red Mountain Pass, west of U.S. Highway 550 (the San Juan Skyway) and south of the historic mining town of Ouray.

The area’s extensive aspen groves, alpine meadows and thick conifer forests provide habitat for the Canadian lynx and the Uncompahgre Fritillary (a butterfly species), both of which are on the federal government’s list of threatened and endangered species. With its scenic vistas and accessibility, it is also a recreational mecca used by more than 1 million visitors a year. In addition, the presence of numerous mining structures dating from the 19th century, when the area was a center for gold and silver mining, make the project so historically significant it has been named by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of the nation’s most valued historical sites.

Senator Wayne Allard, R-Colo., said “This is a tremendous victory for everyone who has worked so hard to preserve this area for future generations. The battle to secure funding for Red Mountain has been a true team effort. Everyone involved in this effort can take pride that we have successfully preserved a very special place for our children and grandchildren.”

Representative Scott McInnis, R-Colo., added, “This is truly a great accomplishment for those who have worked so hard on these efforts. These Colorado gems, with their sheer beauty and presence, are places that everyone can enjoy and associate with the great state in which we live.”

TPL bought the land from the Idarado Mining Company, a Denver-based subsidiary of the Newmont Mining Corporation. Dave Baker, President of Idarado, said, “For the past 100 years, mining was a part of the economic engine that built this part of Colorado. This really begins the final chapter in Idarado’s history in the region. Protecting this land and preserving its history will be Idarado’s final legacy.”

TPL will convey the property to the National Forest Service to ensure its permanent protection. The Red Mountain project was recently ranked as the Forest Service’s top conservation priority in the country.

The transaction is the first of a multi-phased initiative to save 11,000 acres in the heart of the San Juan Mountains. This area – sitting in the triangle formed by the towns of Ouray, Silverton, and Telluride – is so threatened by “backcountry” sprawl and second home development that the National Trust for Historic Preservation has designated it one of the nation’s most endangered places.

Phase II of the Red Mountain Project will involve TPL’s purchase of an additional 2,200 acres from Idarado in San Miguel County, above Telluride and adjacent to the Phase I purchase. That land, on which TPL has a contract, will be conveyed to the Forest Service for permanent protection next year. For the third and final phase of the Project, TPL is currently negotiating with several other property owners to purchase and protect the remaining 5,700 acres over the next two to three years.

This campaign has been spearheaded by the Red Mountain Task Force, a coalition of San Miguel, Ouray, San Juan, and La Plata County public officials and residents who have worked on this project for more than three years.

“The Red Mountain project has had tremendous community support right from the beginning. We are very pleased that this critical first phase is coming to fruition,” said Alan Staehle, a Ouray County Commissioner and a member of the Task Force.

Red Mountain project has also been a priority for the Trust for Public Land. “TPL has long been interested in protecting this incredible part of Colorado. With the successful closing of Phase I, we have made significant progress towards realizing the community’s goal of protecting this historic landscape,” says TPL’s Robotham. “We are very appreciative of the support of Colorado’s Congressional delegation, along with Gov. Bill Owens.”

Founded in 1972, the Trust for Public Land (www.tpl.org) specializes in conservation real estate, applying its expertise in negotiations, public finance and legal matters to acquire parklands and wild spaces that improve the quality of life for people throughout the United States. TPL has added more than 1,300,000 acres of land valued at nearly $2.4 billion to the nation’s common wealth of public open space and, in Colorado, TPL has worked with private landowners, community groups and public agencies to protect over 65,000 acres of land since 1980.