People for Eldorado Mountain
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A Brief History of Eldorado MountainFeb 28, 2001
Formed about 65 million years ago, Eldorado Mountain is the southern anchor of the spectacular Front Range backdrop known as the Flatirons. This area is easily recognized for its dramatic, uplifted rock formations. They exist in a seven mile-long stretch between Gregory Canyon to the north and Eldorado Mountain to the south, and they comprise one of the most beautiful settings to be found in the Rocky Mountain West.
Breathtaking in its scenic beauty, Eldorado is one of the most highly-visible mountains in the region. It is not only part of the daily panorama for nearby residents; it figures prominently into the view corridor for much of the surrounding metropolitan area. Eldorado Mountain's abrupt rise above the plains is seen - and appreciated - from vantage points near and far.
The recognition of the general area for scenic beauty and recreational opportunities has always taken precedence over development. Accordingly, much of the seven-mile corridor has been preserved in perpetuity by city, county, and state land agencies. It is interesting to note that, geographically, there is not a single place - from our boundaries with Canada to the Mexican border - where the Great Plains and the Continental Divide are in closer proximity than they are right at this point. Renowned botanist William Weber notes that this characteristic is responsible for an amazing array of natural diversity within a small geographic area, and he has cited Eldorado Mountain as an impressive indicator of that distinction.
The following "timeline" will provide bit of history for the Eldorado Mountain area:
- Prior to 1850's: The area is the domain of Native Americans, including members of the Arapaho, Southern Cheyenne and Ute Indian tribes.
- Late 1850's: Andrew Doudy settles in the shadow of Eldorado Mountain.
- 1860's - 1915: More families come to settle in the Eldorado region, in the valley and what is now known as the town of Eldorado Springs. Some come seeking their fortune; others come seeking better health. Tents are pitched on the banks of South Boulder Creek and later small cabins and homes are constructed.
The area's reputation as a place to enjoy the great outdoors in a majestic setting grows - and by the turn of the century, it has become an official "resort." It is formed by a group of Denver businessmen who call themselves the Moffat Resort Co. (The ownership of this resort and their holdings is passed to the Fowler family in 1904.) Swimming pools are built, a hotel is constructed, and "flatlanders" are drawn to the area to spend vacations in this exquisite spot.
The rush to put a rail line from Denver to the west turns into a competition among two railroad companies, both with designs on the Eldorado area as a "gateway." One company, the Denver and Rio Grande, contructs their line through a series of tunnels on the face of Eldorado Mountain. Despite what must have been enormous engineering challenges, they win the "race" and proceed from there to - eventually - the Moffat Tunnel and the western side of the Continental Divide. (This track remains very active today, and Amtrak has featured Eldorado Mountain in one of its magazine advertisements, showcasing the area's obvious visual appeal.)
- 1916: In the words of newspaper reporter Charles Wendt: "In 1916 a young army officer and his bride spent their honeymoon in Eldorado Springs. He later occupied the White House in Washington D.C. Their names? Ike and Mamie Eisenhower." 60 years later, the Denver Post features the area in a story and remarks that "Eldorado Springs was one of 'the' places to vacation."
- Late 1960's, early 1970's: Some mining takes place on the lower third of Eldorado Mountain, but the site is abandoned (without reclamation) after the easily accessible rock is removed.
Mining within Eldorado Canyon begins. Some of the land within the canyon is public, some is private. Increased mining leads to increased concern and, in the summer of 1974, state legislators meet with the State Board of Land Commissioners "in an effort to stop a rock quarrying operation now in progress on state-owned land just south of the canyon." State Rep. Sandy Arnold said that, "While acknowledging that the landowners seek to maximize the benefit from the land as making the most money from it, an effort is underway to convince the board that keeping the land as open space or for recreational purposes would also be a beneficial use." He is joined in his preservation efforts by State Sen. Les Fowler and State Rep. Chuck Howe. The concept of saving the area by turning it into a state park emerges, but the bureaucratic obstacles are significant. Appropriation of funds is the biggest hurdle.
- 1970's: The Wesley Conda mining company leases 415 acres on the eastern face of Eldorado Mountain. This parcel is owned by the state; it is "state school board land" administered by the Colorado State Land Commissioners. The Conda lease calls for the following income to be paid to the state: 50 cents per acre per year and 25 cents per ton as a rock "royalty."
- 1974-5: On both private and state-owned property on the south side of Eldorado Canyon, the Wesley Conda firm has an active quarrying operation in place. Although it is primarily limited to removing loose stone, it is reported that "a 30,000 ton batch of scree has already gone to the rock crusher." A rock quarry permit on the canyon's private property is coveted by several Denver-area gravel firms, and several bids to buy out the holdings are made. However, the owner, Bill Fowler, chooses to give preference to an option which might preserve the land.
After many months of consideration, the Colorado Legislature in May, 1975 approves an amount of $100,000 to purchase options within the canyon to prevent further destruction and development of the area until something more can be done. Support for the concept of establishing a state park increases. State Sen. Joe Schieffelin (R- Lakewood) reaffirms that, "Many metropolitan Denver residents would use the park." If the area is acquired for the public, according to State Parks Board member Rowena Rogers, "A state park in the Eldorado Springs Canyon could be the finest state park that we have."
- 1977: Conda represents to the Boulder County Planning Commission that its operation will continue at historical levels, those being: 30 days of operation per year and 2,500 tons mined annually, with a total disturbance during the life of the mine to be limited to 10 acres.
- 1978: After negotiations have been dragging on for three years, the Fowler property in Eldorado Canyon is finally acquired. The purchase price is $400,000 for 272 acres and, later in the year, the state park designation becomes official. (As a footnote: Within two years time, the popularity of the state park rises dramatically. By 1980, newspapers report that "it is attracting more than 1,600 people a week." By the year 1999, Eldorado Canyon State Park visitation is reported at upwards of 250,000 visitors per year.)
- 1982: A Special Use permit is approved by the Jefferson County Commissioners to "legalize an existing 60-foot two-way radio tower" on a portion of private property atop Eldorado Mountain. The application was filed by Front Range Ranching and Mining, Inc.
- 1984: An application for a Special Use permit is submitted as groundwork for building a 180-foot tower next to the existing 60-foot tower. The applicants are Bill Schueller and Bob Greenlee, and the transmitting facilities will be used for KBCO FM radio.
- 1985: Neighbors and concerned citizens from the Eldorado Springs vicinity organize and call their group "People for Eldorado Mountain" (PEM) in response to the latest earth-shaking plans of the Conda mining firm. The plans involve mining operations on 203 acres over the course of 70 years, with a maximum annual production of 1.9 million tons.
Conda attempts to by-pass the County process of special-use permitting, claiming that the County has no jurisdiction over activities on state-owned lands.
- 1985-95: PEM becomes involved with all facets of protecting the Eldorado Mountain area from inappropriate land use. From its inception, their philosophy is to "Expand the Park, Not the Mine," with hopes that the proper change in ownership would result in protecting forever the integrity of the natural area.
- 1986: In light of Conda's failure to secure prior county zoning approval, the Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board denies Conda's application to convert its permit for limited-impact mining (10 acres or less) to a regular permit (any mining disturbance in excess of 10 acres). People for Eldorado Mountain has the great fortune of securing pro-bono legal services, and the PEM lawyers are joined in their legal battles (of several years' duration) by attorneys representing Boulder County and the City of Boulder.
- 1987: Boulder County denies a separate Conda application for a county special use permit to expand mining operations for a scaled-down plan of 67 acres over a period of 15 years with a maximum yearly production of 650,000 tons of rock extracted. Also in 1987, Governor Roy Romer speaks out in opposition to the proposed Conda mine expansion as his predecessor, Governor Dick Lamn, has done before him.
- 1987-88: Conda takes its case to the Denver District Court, which ruled that Conda could have sought a determination from the Boulder County Board of Adjustment but failed to do so. The District Court also concluded that provisions of the State Mined Land Reclamation Act requiring the Reclamation Board to deny a permit for mining that would violate county zoning regulations did not unconstitutionally infringe on the State Land Board's authority over public lands.
- 1989: The Court of Appeals affirms the denial of the Conda's Mined Land Reclamation Board permit.
- 1990: Conda petitions a Colorado Supreme Court review of the case.
- 1991: People for Eldorado Mountain are gratified by their success! The Colorado Supreme Court holds that, among other things, the General Assembly's Reclamation Act intended to authorize counties to exercise zoning authority over school lands leased by the State Land Board. Later that year, the City of Boulder tries to buy out Conda's mining lease. Conda is open to the idea, but the two entities cannot agree on a price.
- 1992: The City of Boulder (which has a vested interest in protecting its Open Space holdings in the immediate vicinity) threatens to condemn the mining operation and vows it will acquire and protect the land as Open Space. Conda wants $1.7 million to give up mining rights on the 415 acre parcel. The City believes the market value to be much less. Eventually the City agrees to pay $1.48 million. This amount allows them to acquire the deed to the land from the state and buy out the mining rights of the Condas. As part of this transaction, the City assumes the obligation of reclaiming the areas disturbed by the Conda's mining operations.
- 1993: An amount of $220,000 is approved by the Boulder Open Space Board of Trustees to reclaim the mined area. The site is challenging to say the least. 50,000 cubic yards of rock will need to be moved to buttress a sliding talus slope, and 300-400 truckloads of topsoil will need to be trucked in to provide a foothold for the proposed plantings.
Also in 1993: a new environmental threat emerges. The issue is a proposed hydroelectric plant to be built on Open Space at the base of Eldorado Mountain. The applicant is Peak Power, a California corporation, and their intent is to take advantage of a little-used FERC 1920's loophole to profit at the expense of our region and the environment. The plan is to generate electricity by building two reservoirs, the upper water held back by a 26-stories high dam, the lower with a surface area of 49 acres. Power would be generated by the water flowing from upper to lower reservoirs, then the water would be pumped back uphill on "off-peak" times for cost effectiveness.
PEM takes on the challenge and succeeds.
- 1994-95 Thanks to the talented and dedicated staff in the City of Boulder Open Space Dept., reclamation of Eldorado Mountain moves from the planning phase to the actual on-site work. The City must meet state and federal requirements, and they have now committed a total of $300,000 to accomplish their goal. PEM is involved in various aspects of the planning phase with regard to both on-site and off-site concerns.
- 1995: The mine site has been regraded, topsoil has been hauled in, contoured and enhanced, and reseeding has taken place.
- 1996: PEM members, their families, and community volunteers gather in April to plant more than 200 shrubs for screening and erosion control on the newly-reclaimed slopes. After the difficult part of the fight, the seven long years of legal battles and all the accompanying efforts, this rejuvenation is tremendously rewarding; it is part of a healing process that will continue for years to come.
In July, 1996, a ceremony is held on Eldorado Mountain, attended by local dignitaries from the City of Boulder and Boulder County, PEM members and their families, by representatives of the Conda family, and by citizens from around the region. It is filmed for later broadcast by local television. JoAnn Dufty, then-president of PEM, read the following speech:
In December, 1996, People for Eldorado Mountain present the City of Boulder with a check for $7,000. It is hoped that this money will help to defray some of the reclamation costs and help with further establishing the vegetation.This gift was made possible by the many fund-raisers and donations through the years. The generous donations to save the mountain came not only from the local community but, indeed, from around the country.
- 1997-1999: Many volunteer days are spent by PEM members 1) hauling water by hand to the new seedlings and 2) making every effort to keep the knapweed problem in check.
- 2000-2001: Sadly, and despite all the endless efforts and countless hours to "Save Eldorado Mountain" and preserve its integrity forever, a new, environmentally-devastating threat emerges. Proposed is an highly-visible antenna farm, on a parcel of private land on the peak of the mountain, which could someday house the broadcasting facilities for the entire metro region. The applicant is proposing as many as three 450 ft. tall towers with flashing lights day and night bringing many undesirable impacts.
When one sees the mountain's grandeur, considers the history of preservation efforts, and reviews compatibility with neighboring land use (nearby are: a very popular state park; long-established residential neighborhoods; and Open Space lands preserved at tremendous public expense as scenic backdrops, buffers from development, and areas for recreational use), it becomes apparent: It would be difficult to find a more inappropriate site for an antenna farm.
People for Eldorado Mountain joins forces with another local environmental group, Citizens for Eldorado Canyon, to fight this latest threat. This organization, in concert with citizen groups in Jefferson County, recently fought - and won - a land use battle of its own, stopping a quarry from being permitted in that county. See the Rail Line Quarry for more information.
The Pinnacle Towers proposal and relevant discussions can be accessed on this site. See Towers.____
This retrospective of the Eldorado Springs, Colorado environmental group was prepared by Douglas Pagels. Along with JoAnn Dufty and Richard Reynolds, Doug was one of the founding members of People for Eldorado Mountain.