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Top Chapman's 'Stranger Than Fiction' Gunnison National Park Properties


Big news came out of Telluride last week when Top Chapman, the controversial developer, announced he and his partner are planning on building their own ski area on the backside of Telluride Resort in an area that's many locals have considered publicly accesible backcountry for years. When Chapman, a self-proclaimed property rights advocate, bought the in-holding property surrounded by Forest Service land in 2010, he immediately set about denying access to his property to area skiers and hikers, who use a federally-recognized trail in the summer and much of the drainage in the winter to get from the Bear Creek wilderness area back to the town of Telluride. He's since been called many loaded names - "bad capitalist," "extorionist," even "douchebag" - but as his past developments show, "bold" would be the most objective descriptor.

In 2010, Chapman and his partners bought a 112-acre plot of land smack dab in the middle of Gunnison National Park, right on the edge of the pristine Black Canyon, for $240,000. While conventional wisdom would consider plots like these stranded and undevelopable, Chapman fearlessly built a fire-proof 4,800 square foot home with an infinity hot tub, heated driveway, and a helicopter pad right on the rim, and then sold off the adjoining 78 acres as a second homesite for $2.1 million. While Chapman originally tried to market the home as a luxury estate - helicopter included - for $13 million - he's more recently come down in price, and is now hoping a "benefactor" will buy the home for $7.5 million and donate it to the parks system for a conference center. Sans copter, we're guessing.

Chapman's long taken pleasure in pointing out what he considers conservationists' hypocrisy - that they believe remote private parcels must be saved for wildlife and public use but aren't willing to pay a fair price for them. His particular form of advocating for private property rights have involved less successful efforts like his Black Canyon experiment, but also other games of chicken that have goaded a fuming Forest Service into purchasing Chapman's remote parcels for top dollar or swapping them for less remote and more practically developable ones.

In 1993, Chapman and co. bought a 240 acres of ridgeline property deep in the West Elk wilderness within Gunnison National Forest. With no roads and motorized access prohibited, Chapman began the improbable move of ferrying in all the construction materials for the private mansion via helicopter. Half way through the build, the Forest Service blinked and traded Chapman a 107-acre property they controversially considered of equal value to his $639K West Elk plot - except right outside Telluride - and Chapman happily obliged. He promptly burned down the log construction, replanted the ridge, and then sold the Telluride plot for six times what the Feds appraised it for.
· Casa Barranca [Leadbetter Webster Land]
· Top Chapman looking for benefactor to buy Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park luxury home [Denver Post]
· 'The Buzzard of the Backcountry' Strikes It Rich in National Parks [Wall Street Journal]