Completing your checklist of Colorado 14er hikes comes with an exhaustive physical toll, but that's nothing compared to a multi-million-dollar price tag.
Culebra Peak, one of the state's 54 — or as many as 60, depending on who's doing the counting — iconic 14,000-foot mountains is on the market as part of a massive wilderness estate on the edge of the San Luis Valley that borders the New Mexico state line. The more than 83,000-acre Cielo Vista Ranch, meaning "View of Heaven," can be all yours for a cool $105 million.
"Rarely do you see a private tract of land that has that type of mountainous areas," said Pat Lancaster, broker for the Mirr Ranch Group selling the property. "Just the alpine country, with all of the 13,000-foot peaks, let alone the one at 14,000 feet, it really doesn't happen in the lower 48 (states), or anywhere that I know of."
Spanning 23 miles of ridgeline on the eastern boundary of the Sangre de Cristo Range, Cielo Vista Ranch boasts 18 "13ers" in addition to Culebra and has been up for sale for about a year and a half. Interest in the property has ramped up recently, though, and Lancaster said he anticipates a deal may come soon.
The land has an official history dating back to before Colorado gained statehood in 1876, when Mexico granted it to a French Canadian trapper. Under his watch, part of what is today Cielo Vista Ranch was deeded to Mexican and Spanish settlers, which included rights for logging, hunting and grazing.
Colorado's first territorial governor eventually bought it from the trapper's descendants before sale to a North Carolinian logger in 1960. It changed hands again in 1988 for $20 million and became the source of a decades-long legal battle that nearly made it to the U.S. Supreme Court where the heirs of the Mexican and Spanish settlers sought to recoup their previously guaranteed access to the prized terrain.
Colorado's high court finally reinstated some of those permissions in 2002, awarding logging and grazing opportunities, but ending those rights to fishing or hunting. Bobby Hill, a Texas-based rancher and land speculator, last bought the property with business partners in 2004 for between $40 and $60 million.
MOUNTAINS FOR SALE OR RENT
Hill and his gang now look to nearly double their money on the investment at roughly $1,260 an acre. With the neighboring 172,000-acre Trinchera Ranch selling to wealthy hedge-fund manager Louis Moore Bacon in 2007 for $175 million, or approximately $1,000 per acre, the asking price might not be so outlandish in comparison.
As part of the purchase price, the next owner will also have the ability to establish how the ranch's commercial enterprises carry on — if at all. It could be bought, for example, and wiped entirely from Colorado's stock of bucket-list mountains.
"That is the whole thing, they can continue on or do their own thing and keep it a private sanctuary for family, guests, business associates — however you'd like to do it," said Lancaster. "But just the fact that ranch is what it is and the wildlife there, that's more of a selling point than the commercial operation."
Presently 14er peak-baggers must pay $150 per permit for groups of up to 25 people to hike Culebra, and reservations are open on Fridays and Saturdays only, late-June through the end of August, though there will be no climbs this year after July. Commercial fishing and hunting trips, among its 100 miles-plus of streams and trophy-level big game, are other activities that can be booked through the ranch.
The Colorado Fourteeners Initiative estimates that fewer than 1,000 people attempt to climb Culebra Peak — a Class 2 (of 5), 5-to-7-mile hike with about 3,000 feet of elevation gain, depending on the starting point — each year, at least in part due to the associated fee. In fact, because so few make the trek to the ranch, located 45 minutes outside of Alamosa in Costilla County, the mountain's northwest ridge route has no established trail, making for an even more unique experience.
THE PURSUIT OF PROPERTY
Whether someone should have a right to own one of the state's premier hiking destinations is a debate for public versus private land advocates. It's not a conflict the CFI — a nonprofit with the defined mission of protecting these geographical marvels' ecosystems, building and maintaining existing public trails and teaching hikers about leave-no-trace practices — plans to wade into.
"We're not principally an advocacy group, but rather focused on trail stewardship, alpine tundra vegetation restoration and hiker education," said Lloyd Athearn, CFI's executive director. "We've been expanding our interest a bit in trying to intervene on some of these access-related issues, but we're just dipping a toe into that and it's not a principal focus of the organization."
To settle a quarrel between hikers and existing landowners on the Sawatch Range's Mount Shavano, CFI raised about $50,000 to buy three mining rights at the peak's summit in late-2016 so it could begin to make trail improvements and ensure continued public admission. That followed assistance negotiating conditional access in 2009 on Mounts Democrat, Lincoln and Bross — the popular Front Range DeCaLiBron Loop that also includes Mount Cameron — and ongoing efforts to do the same for a section of Mount Lindsey in the Sangre de Cristos that traverses private land.
Another erstwhile dispute entailed a landowner who took exception to hikers crossing a section of his land along the main approach to Wilson Peak of the San Juans, occasionally threatening passersby with a shotgun. That was ultimately resolved when a public land trust bought that portion and conveyed it to the U.S. Forest Service for public right to entry in perpetuity — what the CFI plans to do with Shavano once the updated route is constructed.
That doesn't mean the private-public argument is dead, and Culebra Peak is the one that primarily perpetuates the clash.
"When recreating on the 14ers, people need to understand not all 14ers are alike and not all 14ers fall within public lands," said Athearn, a lifelong mountaineer. "There aren't police out there on the mountains, so people need to be informed about what the status is and willing to be responsible for following or not following the regulations.
"That may fly in the face of some people who say, 'It's on the list, I want to climb it, I'm going to climb it,' and 'Mountains should be free,'" he added. "But that's not the legal status. Maybe it's an inherent conflict in a list-oriented society, when some mountains may not legally be eligible to be on the list."
The Dillon Ranger District has reopened the recreation trails temporarily closed due to the Peak 2 fire.
According to a news release, fire crews have completed much of their work on and around the Miners Creek Trail. Approximately a half mile of the Miners Creek Trail, also section 7 of the Colorado Trail, is within the burned area of the Peak 2 fire.
The Peaks Trail, Miners Creek Road and Gold Hill Trail are also again open for use.
Deputy district ranger Adam Bianchi released a statement saying, "The crews conducted a lot of good work this past week on the Miners Creek Trail. They focused on felling and clearing snags in the vicinity of the trail that posed a safety risk. This section of trail can now be used again."
Signs have been put up on the Miners Creek Trail where the trail passes through the burned area. The signage will remind people to stay on the trail within this section for safety reasons.
"We cannot stress enough how important it is for people stay on the Miners Creek Trail for the section that goes through the burned area," Bianchi said. "Beyond the trail corridor, there are still snags and safety hazards created by the dead, down and burned trees."
At this time, the fire is not active. However, within the interior of the fire there is a chance some heat still exists and could flare up, and people should stay out of the burned area for safety reasons.
Currently, one engine continues to patrol and monitor the Peak 2 fire. Crews set up a monitoring camera early on in the week to monitor for any potential smoke activity within the perimeter of the fire.
The Peak 2 fire remains at 85 percent containment. It is not unusual for fires to continue to smoke on warm, dry days for weeks or even months. The fire could become active again, but firefighters do not anticipate much, if any, growth and the likelihood of the fire threatening communities is low.
A new addition at Breckenridge Ski Resort's summer fun park, Epic Discovery, entices children and adults alike to see if they can be as agile as a fox or bite down as hard as a beaver.
Just don't tell the youngsters it's supposed to be educational, because mixed in with the alpine coasters and slides, ziplines, bungee trampolines and mini golf course are numerous informational displays and interactive stations, complete with tidbits about the mountain environment, its wildlife and local history, and it's possible the children might learn something without even realizing it.
The new Alpine Camp at Epic Discovery was unveiled to the public during a Friday morning ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by a handful of local dignitaries, representatives of the ski resort, a conservation group and the Forest Service, and one of the state's highest ranking elected officials.
Speaking to the crowd, Colorado Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, a mother of three, said she doesn't shy away from riding the coasters, tubing down mountains or taking on a ropes course, even at 63 years old.
The ropes gave her some trouble, she said, but more important is there are few pleasures greater for a parent "than tricking your children to have fun and learning at the same time."
And she wasn't the only one who spoke from that perspective.
"I know, for my family, the climbing wall, the coaster, the challenge course, that's what is going lure my kids out," said Chris Jarnot, executive vice president of Vail Resorts Mountain Division. "And they're going to learn along the way through the interpretative elements. That's Epic Discovery."
Vail Resorts owns Breckenridge Ski Resort, and the informational displays at Epic Discovery's Alpine Camp are not unlike what someone would expect to find at a major zoo, only this zoo is 11,059 feet above sea level and comes with all the aforementioned activities, like ziplines, that most zoos don't offer.
"We're embarking on an entirely new way to engage people in the national forest and public lands through play and recreation," said Scott Fitzwilliams, forest supervisor for the White River National Forest. "That's what excites me about the future, it's a different type of engagement and much more intimate than in the winter. Here everything is slowed down a little bit for people to learn and engage."
A spokeswoman for the ski resort, Kristen Petitt Stewart, said she can also see Epic Discovery as a kind of warm-up run for people who might want to get into hiking or biking in the mountains but don't have much experience in the environment.
For most patrons, a day at Epic Discovery begins with a scenic gondola ride from downtown Breckenridge up to the base of Peak 8. It's about a 12-minute trip that no one seems to mind.
Once at the base, Epic Discovery takes on the feel of a small-scale amusement park, with all the aforementioned fun stuff, in addition to ticket sales, a meeting place for guided tours of the mountains and options for refreshment.
From there, a quick ride up the super lift seating up to six people per chair carries patrons to the Alpine Camp.
The camp sits at just over 11,000 feet elevation, and it's where visitors will find a handful of short hiking trails, the challenge course and a full 360-degree rock climbing wall with 16 routes and self-belaying ropes.
Also at the camp is one trail loop with a vast array of scattered informational displays, some of which are purely informative while others come with hands-on activities. One of the stations is dedicated to foxes and another compares the bite of a beaver to that of a human, which is actually surprisingly strong but not nearly as powerful as the buck-toothed wood-chomper's.
Then there' a new observation tower at the Alpine Camp, which sits no more than a couple hundred feet from the chair lift, features stairs wide enough for a wheelchair and offers one of the most breath-taking views of Breckenridge, the Continental Divide and the greater Rocky Mountains that Summit County has to offer.
In addition to teaching people more about the mountain environment and its inhabitants, Epic Discovery also stands as one of the resort's biggest summertime draws, and Lynne made sure to thank Vail Resorts for all the tax dollars it collects on behalf of the state throughout the year.
One other bit of good news, the resort is donating 1 percent of all its summer-activity revenue to The Nature Conservancy, a conservation group that promotes wilderness education and awareness.
Weather permitting, Epic Discovery is open 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. Passes range from $40-$82. Individual tickets for some of the activities are available. For more info, go to Breckenridge.com and click the "Epic Discovery" tab at the top of the page.
Widely thought of one as the best performance venues in Summit County, the Lake Dillon Amphitheatre is undergoing a massive $8.4 million overhaul that's expected to wrap next summer.
On the shores of Dillon Reservoir, the amphitheater stands as a central piece to the town core, playing host to numerous events throughout the year, including Dillon's ever-popular series of free summer concerts that draw attendance figures in the thousands and bring a wide variety of acts to Summit County, ranging from funk and rock to country and jazz.
Dillon officials have long been looking to upgrade the venue, and town council approved a contract with JHL Construction on May 16. Construction began July 10. The work is expected to be finished in time for the Fourth of July festivities next year, according to town spokeswoman Kerstin Anderson.
Initial plans to redo the amphitheater drew strong criticism for their design elements, with a number of residents voicing concerns that it looked too modern and did not fit in with the town's character. Others raised issues that a larger amphitheater could block the picturesque views of the lake and nearby mountains.
“We’re looking forward to reopening next summer with a state-of-the-art facility.”Kerstin AndersonTown of Dillon spokeswoman
However, Anderson hints at the town's solution in a news release announcing the start of construction, saying that "the design we ultimately landed on is slightly smaller than original concepts and includes natural materials, such as wood and stone for the exterior."
Over the phone Thursday, she confirmed those decisions were made to address some of the fears previously voiced by local residents.
Altogether, the project includes a new stage, restroom and concession buildings, new lighting, earthwork and retaining walls, along with storm, sewer and utility work, and ADA-approved handrails, guardrails and ramps.
The old stage will be torn down, and a new performance area will be built in its place, only it will be pushed down the hill a little farther and moved back closer to the recpath, both of which should improve the lines of sight, according to the town.
The new stage will come with increased loading and unloading capabilities and have a greenroom for performers, opposed to the portable toilet they were previously asked to use.
The amphitheater will seat about the same number of people as the current facility does — approximately 3,500 — and the total number of restrooms will be increased.
"Given our natural boundaries, we will not be greatly increasing the capacity, but we will be making a big impact on use of space, flow and improving ADA accessible seating throughout the facility," Anderson said.
South of the new amphitheater will be a path that's ADA accessible, allowing people with disabilities to enjoy the shows from the top, middle or bottom of the facility. The upper level will include a concessions and festival plaza area.
"The overall dance space will increase, and the existing concrete seats will remain in place," Anderson added. "The grass seating area will be pushed back to provide a more gradual slope than we experience today."
The new amphitheater will also have a new space for parking up to 66 bicycles.
The total project cost is pegged at $8.4 million, and Dillon is paying for it through various channels, according to Carri McDonnell, the town's director of finance.
Those sources include an existing balance of $1.69 million earmarked for the Lake Dillon Theatre Company before the company moved into the new performing arts center in Silverthorne earlier this year.
Other sources include a $5 million loan from Alpine Bank, $800,000 in grant money from the Department of Local Affairs, $75,000 from Summit County government with some additional in-kind services, and $50,000 from The Summit Foundation.
The town has also kicked off a community fundraising effort to help pay for the new amphitheater and buy it a new sound system. For more about the fundraising effort or to make a donation, call 970-262-3403.
Dispelling one of the biggest misconceptions regarding the new amphitheater, Anderson said that the town will continue hosting its free concerts now through Sept. 2, but is shifting them from the amphitheater to Town Park while the work is underway. Some people mistakenly thought the town was ditching the concerts, Anderson said, and that is not true.
Construction is not expected to have major impacts on traffic, but crews will be using part of the Dillon Marina's parking for a construction staging area. Additionally, the town is not accepting reservations for use of the Marina Park Pavilion, which has become a popular location for family reunions, barbecues and small weddings.
"We're looking forward to reopening next summer with a state-of-the-art facility and continuing to provide the concerts everyone knows and loves at the Dillon Amphitheatre," Anderson said.
The High Country Conservation Center and Middle Park Conservation District are hosting a presentation on water law on Friday, Aug. 25, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Summit County Commons. The seminar, titled Water Law in a Nutshell, will be presented by Aaron Clay, an attorney and former water referee for the Colorado Water Court, Division 4.
The all-day event will feature discussions about appropriation, perfection, use, abandonment and enforcement of various types of water rights and ditch rights. Further discussion may also include special rules for groundwater, public rights in appropriated water, and federal and interstate compacts.
"This was a fabulous class," said Sonia Chirtton in a flyer for the event. "I appreciated the case law stories to illustrate the importance of gaining knowledge in this field. The insight into what may happen in the future was extremely interesting from an investment standpoint as well."
Lunch is included with the $50 registration fee. The deadline to sign up is Aug. 4. For more information or to register, call Kaitlin with the Middle Park Conservation District at (970) 532-0127 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
There's a new biking trend on the rise, and if Jake Roach has his way, you won't even hear it coming.
Welcome to the nearly silent world of e-biking, a growing segment of the sprawling cycling market that bridges the gap between human-powered bikes and motorized machines with loud, meaty engines. This growing segment of the industry is all about convenience and access, featuring bike frames with integrated motors of less than 750 watts designed to make ascents easier than usual, descents just as fun as ever and long distances seem much shorter.
"It's stealth, it's silent, it's about enjoying and not interrupting nature, which leads to a better experience in the great outdoors," said Roach, an outdoor industry veteran of more than a decade who's currently based in Eagle. Since 2012, he and his brother have owned an e-bike company, QuietKat, which cracked into the market with models made for hunters, anglers and other outdoorsman who have long used noisy ATVs and four-wheelers to access deep stretches of the backcountry. The current line of QuietKat machines is the "next generation" of e-bikes, he said, with components, batteries, frames and motors designed solely for e-biking. These aren't Frankenstein-ed together from standard mountain bikes and modified dirt bike motors — they're something entirely different.
But different is rarely easy. Since entering the consumer market in 2014, Roach and QuietKat have faced a new kind of business hurdle: government regulations. As the e-bike movement continues to grow — e-bike sales jumped by 70 percent in the U.S. last year while the rest of the cycling industry stayed relatively static, Roach said — local and state governments have struggled to keep up with the trend. Rules across the state are fuzzy about where e-bikes can be, with different laws from county to county and town to town.
Here's how the trend sits now: E-bikes aren't allowed in National Parks or wilderness areas, just like mountain bikes. They also aren't technically allowed on most bike and hike-only U.S. Forest Service trails. The town of Crested Butte recently debuted an 18-mile trail made solely for e-bikes, while QuietKat's hometown of Eagle is willing to work with e-bikers yet has no official laws on the books. A Breckenridge franchise, Pedego, leads guided e-bike tours on town and county-owned paved recreational paths, but the tours don't venture onto any town-owned dirt trails — yet another gray area in Summit County.
"I see some parallels between this and the days in the early-'90s when they started allowing snowboards on the mountains," Roach said. "People were wondering: How are they going to share the trails? How are they going to stop? … But the thing is, adding 750 watts (on an e-bike) isn't like you're zooming past people on the trail."
After hearing a QuietKat presentation at Elevate CoSpace in Frisco this July, the Summit Daily sports desk caught up with Roach to learn more about his company, the e-bike trend and what it will take to get motorized bikes on Summit County trails.
Summit Daily News: Let's start at the very top and talk about the e-bike trend. How did it get started?
Jake Roach: There are two parts to the trend. The first is that by 2020, 30 out of 100 Americans will be 65 (years old) or older. The nature of getting older and having the disability of age means that if you continue to recreate and enjoy life's wonders, you'll be helped along with an e-bike. This will take you into the great outdoors, give you a great experience, and then you want to do it again and again and again, and there is a huge economic impact there. People buy food and camping gear and everything else they want to enjoy the outdoors. … The thing is, this older demographic wants a way to get into the outdoors, and I believe that the trickle-down effect of allowing more of these sorts of vehicles is only advantageous.
On the other side — the Millennial side, the people moving to Colorado — they won't use e-bikes just for access, but they're on the side of being green and having low impact. They don't even want to start a car because of the impact it has on the environment. If someone from this age group can have a low-impact vehicle, that's another big advantage.
The third for us is the hunting and fishing community. It's about getting to areas where you want to be to enjoy your activities and getting there efficiently can be hard. You might do it once on a mountain bike, but you won't do it over and over. I went mountain biking to an elk hunting spot once, and even though I enjoyed it — I thought, "This is great, it was so serene," — I wasn't sure if I wanted to do it five or six times a year. It was really hard to get up that trail with all my gear and just me. But if I have an e-bike, something that can easily get me around, I'll be more willing to go out more often.
SDN: Why do you think e-biking is the transportation of choice for these demographics, instead of an RV or some other, more traditional vehicle?
JR: An RV or a camper can get you to the trailhead, but that's as far as it will go. An e-bike is a modern-day horse — it gets you where you want to go in the backcountry. RVs and campers are also invasive, right? Animals and everything else will hear you as you're coming along and you won't have the same experience.
Another thing is the machines and engines themselves. Five years ago, you would've taken an e-bike into the backcountry and ended up walking it out. A few years ago, it was something you slapped onto an average mountain bike, with these wires and battery packs and other stuff you had to add to a regular bike. Now, the technology is more integrated into the bike.
SDN: What do you think sets QuietKat apart from the rest of the e-bike field?
JR: Our big niche is the hunt, bullet, fish community — the backcountry access. Right now, our company is not about building trail bikes that are made for singletrack, but a parallel market is the performance market. A perfect example is that two days ago I rode up Vail Mountain on my mountain bike to ride the singletrack down. That's not something your average tourist is doing … E-bikes help you utilize the power you want to get uphill, but they're now made well enough to basically be a downhill mountain bike. An average downhill bike weighs 40 or 45 pounds, and a typical performance e-bike is about the same.
SDN: What's the biggest market for e-biking in Summit County and the Colorado mountains right now?
JR: Tourists are really big on enjoying the downhill, but they don't often want to do the uphill. The altitude can be killer up here. An e-bike gets you up some of these more difficult routes and trails so you can enjoy what everyone else is enjoying, even if you aren't used to it. Soon, Quiet Kat is getting into the performance market, with full-suspension like you'd see on a Yeti (mountain bike) or something else.
SDN: Why are mountain communities like Summit and Eagle counties the best places to grow your product?
JR: The Colorado outdoor recreation industry has been so good. They're trying to align themselves to be the No. 1, undisclosed location for recreation, and with e-bikes this allows more people to get out and enjoy the outdoors. The elements that Colorado has, including Summit and Vail and every single mountain town, allows for growth, and not only growth for people who love bikes in general, but it also allows your dad to go out with you on some of these cool rides he couldn't do otherwise. From the level of bonding and relationships, whether father-son or coworkers, everyone can go out and have an experience together. E-bikes sales were up by 70 percent last year when bicycle sales were flat, so growth is another big part of this. It has been astronomical.
SND: What is it going to take for e-bikes to continue growing, both as an industry and a part of the cycling community?
JR: I think it's well-designed government rules about access and public lands. I'm not a proponent that they should be everywhere. They should have different classes of trails, like they have different classes of bikes, right? Certain trials could be regular biking only — call it Class One — others could be bikes and e-bikes — a Class Two — still others could be e-bikes and regular bikes and motocross. There just needs to be more guidance about what is allowed on public lands and more local input on how that will look.
You look at so many double-track roads in the mountains that were developed for logging and everything else, and there's really no reason that I see why e-bikes can't be allowed on those. You have trails lately that have been built solely to be singletrack and those should stay just for mountain biking, but there are so many types of trails out there. And there really is no way that an e-bike can beat up a trail, a downhill trail like Mamba on Vail Mountain, more than a regular bicycle.