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Bear Creek Access

Save Telluride’s Backcountry Gates to Bear Creek!

Tell the USFS to reopen the Upper Bear Creek backcountry access gates immediately.

The Issue:

Bear Creek Basin is an uncontrolled backcountry area that offers some of the most spectacular ski and snowboard terrain in the Rockies. Until December 2010, it was accessible through USFS gates at the Telluride Ski Resort. On December 8th, U.S. Forest Service district ranger Judy Schutza closed three backcountry gates accessing the popular Bear Creek drainage adjacent to the Telluride ski area, in response to a request by property owner Thomas Chapman of the Chapman Group (a.k.a. Gold Hill Development Corp.) and another private landowner nearby, north of Chapman’s claims. Chapman’s group owns a contiguous strip of three mining claims that start in Delta Bowl and run down to the bottom of the drainage. The other landowner owns the nearby Nellie claim. This also blocks access to the Wasatch Trail, one of the region’s most popular summer hikes, and a USFS-recognized trail for several decades.

The gates closed by the USFS are on federal land and provide access to public lands that do not necessarily cross Chapman’s private mining claims. These gates provide the only reasonable ski access from the ski area into upper Bear Creek, and the USFS has a duty to provide reasonable access to this area. This closure violates that duty.

Take Action: Write a Letter

Personalized messages are the most effective form of communication when making a comment to public officials. Therefore, please use the text as a guide and spice-up your letter with your personal connection to the Bear Creek area and Telluride's backcountry user community. Written letters are more effective than emails. Both are even better.

Step 1. Compose Message

Message Recipients
Charley Richmond
Forest Supervisor, U.S. Forest Service
2250 Highway 50, Delta, CO 81416
Email: csrichmond@fs.fed.us

Judy Schutza
District Ranger, U.S. Forest Service
P.O. Box 388, Norwood, CO 81423
Email: jschutza@fs.fed.us

Subject: Reopen the upper Bear Creek backcountry access points that provide public access from the Telluride Ski Area onto National Forest System lands in Upper Bear Creek.

Dear __________,

Paragraph 1:
Introduce yourself, include where you live and work, if you have skied Bear Creak, how often. If you are from out of town, discuss how often you come to the area to ski. Don't forget to mention if you are part of an organization such as the AAC, Telluride Mountain Club, Winter Wildlands Alliance, etc. Talk about why this area is important to you.

Paragraph 2:
Discuss why you oppose the recent closure. Include any of the following talking points in your message.

Talking points:

• Reopen the Upper Bear Creek backcountry access gates immediately and involve the public in future decisions about this area.

• The hasty decision to close access to this area did not adequately take into account the economic and social impacts on the region’s people and businesses.

• It is problematic, and potentially illegal, when a federal agency closes public land that has been open to public use for over 10 years without any public input.

• The closed gates provide access to public lands that do not necessarily cross the involved private mining claims. There are many other areas that can be accessed via these access points that do not conflict with or trespass on private land.

• In the previous decades, there was never any concern about public access in the Bear Creek drainage. There have been documented ski descents in this area as early as the 1960s or earlier.

• Part of the USFS’s mission is to provide the public with reasonable access to public land.

• The Wasatch Trail is an USFS-recognized trail that has been used by the public for decades without any contested use.

Paragraph 3:
Closing statement restating reopening access.

Your closing,
Your Name

Include Address and Contact Information


For further background on this issue, please visit:





This area is important. 

Telluride's Gold Hill backcountry access gates were established in 1999. According to Telluride Ski Area figures, as many as 300 people ski out of the entire Bear Creek drainage on a busy winter day. It gained popularity in wintertime with its easy access and challenging, steep terrain. Comprised mostly of Uncompahgre National Forest, Bear Creek is also a popular summer hiking destination. The Wasatch Trail, one of the region’s finest, climbs out of Telluride up Bear Creek and into surrounding high country alpine basins.