Hilary Cooper

Valley Floor Preservation Partners

The years-long, passionate effort to preserve the Valley Floor as open space was not an easy one. It began as a meandering path of failed negotiations, a community divided, contentious town elections and wary fundraising advisors; but, ultimately, doubters joined believers, a diverse partnership coalesced, we talked, we looked forward, we sacrificed, and as an extended community we joined together to accomplish what had seemed impossible. Saturday, May 9, is the eighth anniversary of our acquisition of the Valley Floor as open space in perpetuity. We dared to dream and, together, wrote a happy ending to a long and difficult story. 

Today our Valley Floor open space is many things to many people:  a quick access from town for quiet contemplation, a living classroom for Pinhead students and the Watershed Education Program, a focused environmental science learning opportunity for Telluride High School and Telluride Mountain School students, a hands-on trail building and maintenance skill-building experience for young recreationalists. We continue to grow as students of this land.

The Valley Floor provides habitat for plants and trees in a long and slow adaptation process to warmer, dryer conditions.  It offers refuge for wildlife forced to adapt to a changing climate and in need of clear, undeveloped migration corridors to transition into more suitable habitat.

How blessed are we to have this backyard classroom as we, too, learn to adapt to a changing climate? What can we learn from new species of plants and trees that migrate here? What can we learn from any species that is able to adapt and survive? How does an ecosystem regulate its population, or if it does not what happens? Will we need increased flood control as we experience more extreme weather events? Can we use this headwaters riparian meadow to act as natural water storage for healthy continuous flows downstream?

The Telluride community is about to learn more about the long-anticipated river restoration project on the Valley Floor. This will be a multi-phase, multi-year effort to move the river out of its forced channelization into a more natural meander. The Town has selected environmental consultants who have a strong history of sensitive and effective river restoration and yet there will be impacts… construction equipment, wildlife temporarily forced to move, noise, limited access for us and more. Are we willing to make short-term sacrifices for long-term, anticipated and unanticipated, benefits that some of us might not even see? Do we want to maintain existing, familiar plants and trees or should we seek to better understand what the future species will be and encourage their migration into this ecosystem?

We have learned so much from working together to preserve this special place and we can learn so much more. Perhaps the knowledge we have gained and the knowledge we have yet to gain from the Valley Floor ecosystem can guide critical decisions we face as a community – locally and globally. If we remain humble, observe, listen, learn – perhaps we can move into the future in a smarter way.

Scientists remind us that diversity is the key to survival. Darwin observed, “It is not the strongest or most intelligent that will survive, it is those who can best manage change.” In nature, monocultures do not survive; species need to learn from each other to adapt. In a few short years, we have witnessed the Valley Floor prairie dog population explode, then reduce with the attraction of predators and by their moving extended social families away from overpopulated areas. Perhaps if we choose to learn from our neighboring animal and plant species and we are humble enough to apply that ancient knowledge to our own decision-making processes, we can better adapt in a more healthy and sustainable way.

Let’s utilize the Valley Floor and all of our surrounding public lands to continue to instill a sense of place in ourselves and in our children.

Let’s better understand our connection to all things and strive to make learned, thoughtful, managed decisions as we face continuing change.

Let’s celebrate this Anniversary and the lessons it brings. As always, we urge you to get out and enjoy the Valley Floor this weekend. Watch, listen, be still and embrace the wisdom you come back with.