The Telluride Valley Floor resident elk herd moves from open meadow to wetland on a golden October morning.
While we were in Telluride earlier this month, I spent some time on the Telluride Valley Floor, protected open space that extends west from town. The San Miguel River, fed by streams pouring off the San Juan Mountains, runs the length of the valley. Behind a gas station is a healthy Gunnison’s prairie dog colony, sandwiched between a wetland along the San Miguel River and a forested area that is home to a resident elk herd. With big lens on my shoulder, I walked into the conservation area and a whole new world opened before me. Migrating Western bluebirds perched on an old cattle fence and picked off insects in the prairie dog town, where endangered Gunnison’s P’dogs chirped a warning call to tell the community about an intruder. Surprisingly, a badger emerged in mid-afternoon sunshine, poking his head in prairie dog holes, looking for an easy meal. The town taxed itself $50 million to buy the Valley Floor, creating a conservation easement to protect the land in perpetuity. Is protecting a western valley for prairie dogs, elk, and recreation protectionism run amok or visionary brilliance?
A Gunnison’s prairie dog stretches in his burrow.
Most westerners agree that beautiful scenery, open space, wildlife, clean air and clean water are important values that we hold dear. In a shrinking West, it’s extraordinary that a town would come together to protect those values – $50 million is a strong value statement. Most visitors come to Telluride for the mind-blowing scenery and they’re greeted with uncluttered open space, maybe a glimpse of the elk herd. Fertile wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in the world, filtering water and providing important habitat for a range of species, including humans who fish the river and travel the bike path. The Telluride Valley Floor is corridor for wildlife and people, a visionary conservation easement to be enjoyed for all time. Thank you Telluride for your investment in the West!