Minturn stays the course, ski portal or no
These days the historic town of Minturn is minding its own business, always on the lookout for ways to grow economically. But like many communities from Vail to Eagle, the old railroad town five miles from Vail town limits has always had its eye on the future of the White River National Forest.Back when the Forest Service was wrangling through its revised forest management plan for the White River, Minturn’s interest turned toward a portion of the forest known as South Game Creek. And so did the valley’s number one business concern, Vail Resorts.South Game Creek is the backcountry ski portal that leads hundreds of snowriders down a usually powdery slope and into a traverse known as the Minturn Mile. It’s been a popular out-of-bounds trek for day skiers that has had the town of some 1,200 residents wondering if the day will ever come when Vail Resorts connects Minturn to the rest of Vail Mountain.Since the release of the revised management plan, Vail Resorts has been busy appealing language in the plan. Specifically of interest to Minturn is the language governing South Game Creek. Since the wording might allow for a future portal from the town to Game Creek, town officials came up with a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Vail Resorts declaring that the ski company would not begin plans for a base operation in Minturn unless the town first invites Vail Resorts to begin negotiations.However, to date, Minturn officials are pretty laid back about the future possibility of a portal."I think our relationship (with Vail Resorts) is still governed by the MOU, and in order for them to pursue a portal, we would have to request it," says Minturn Town Manager Alan Lanning. "In our mind, at least, they could not pursue it on their own."The MOU was signed by the town and former Vail Resorts President Andy Daly back in 2000. According to Lanning and some town officials present at the signing of the agreement, there would be a good-neighbor policy maintained between the two entities, and no designs on a base operation in Minturn would go forward without heavy negotiations. However, during negotiations regarding the content of the MOU, several Minturn council members threw barbs at Vail Resorts. Mayor Pro Tem Darrell Wegert was quoted by a local newspaper as saying, "I just don’t trust (Vail Resorts)."Wegert went on to sign the MOU while former VR Vice President of Public Affairs Porter Wharton III told a newspaper that the ski company could move forward with plans without the cooperation of the Town of Minturn. That history, however, doesn’t worry the town’s elected officials."It (the portal and MOU) kind of comes up occasionally and it gets put aside because it doesn’t look like anything in the near future," says Jerry Bumgarner, a town council member and local business owner.One thing that does concern town officials, and could have an impact on the future possibility of a ski portal, is the 62-acre Union Pacific rail yard at the north end of Minturn.In 1998, UP presented plans to the town that would have included a mix of town houses, apartments, stores and single-family homes all spread across the now defunct rail yard. The railroad company had, at the time, successfully filed for abandonment of the Tennessee Pass rail line. But federal transportation officials worried the company could not handle its rail load with the closure and suspended the abandonment.That ruling also suspended plans for the town’s development. And the status of the rail yard has not changed, says Lanning."Nothing has changed as far as we know," Lanning says. "I think there is still a lot of internal dealings within the railroad."Town officials and residents have debated whether a portal from Minturn would be a boon or bust. Some locals have speculated that an increase in real estate costs in the town began in earnest when conversations regarding the portal and the MOU began as early as 1999. Regardless, Lanning says it is his belief that economic success for the town in a ski-resort economy is not necessarily about the portal, but the rail yard and how it is developed.Lanning speculates that if a portal were to run from Minturn to Game Creek, an economic boon might be on the horizon if Union Pacific were to revisit its plans to convert the yard into a logical extension of the Minturn community. However, there is always the chance that the railroad company could lease the acreage to Vail Resorts and Minturn would become nothing more than parking for day skiers.For now, however, the Town of Minturn is moving forward with its own recreation plans in hopes of creating the valley’s first high-end RV park, and ski portals to Vail, as far as town officials are concerned, are a matter for the future. They’ll ride that gondola when they get to it.