Dear Editor,

On Monday, Feb 17, Sheep Mountain Alliance (SMA) is showing the movie The Valley at 7pm at the Sheridan Opera House. It is a movie about Telluride’s legendary Valley Floor preservation effort, by Arizona filmmaker Ron Melmon. The Valley, while not a factual documentary, is uplifting and inspiring. 

The film weaves a narrative of how a community achieved seemingly insurmountable goals by thinking big and working together. Melmon chose to present the history primarily through the lens of the final 90 days that led to acquisition: The heroic fundraising effort that closed the gap between what was available through the Town’s forward-thinking Open Space Fund (a notable victory on its own) plus early pledges, and the astronomical 50 million dollar price set for the property by a biased jury. For those who weren’t here in the 90s and early 2000s, it’s a glimpse into how the community preserved 560 acres of open space on Telluride’s western boundary.   

There’s no way to completely recount the Valley Floor saga in one 70-minute film, and as a result, Melmon missed an opportunity to emphasize some of the most transformative parts of the process: the grassroots activism; the many, many citizens who explored every creative alternative, educated themselves and each other about the pros and cons of condemnation, drafted the condemnation ordinance, circulated petitions, made compromises about the boundaries worth fighting for, gathered information for an appraisal, and debated each detail. And of course, there were bakesales and street-party-fundraisers and silent auctions, throughout.

It's meant as an inspirational movie about how communities can shape their destinies, but I’m worried that the movie rewrites history by minimizing the compelling story of a community resolving conflicts and working really hard together. It’s such an important reminder in these divisive times, world-wide. The tale of compromises, humility, and putting civic and environmental values ahead of personal ego, is almost hard to imagine these days. But that’s what Telluride did throughout the suspenseful Valley Floor acquisition process.

It’s been 20 years since the Rally for the Valley unofficially launched the journey to the 2004 condemnation and the 2007 purchase of Telluride’s beloved Valley Floor. Without each critical step along the way, the effort would have failed. It’s an important part of SMA’s 32-year history; an important part of Telluride’s history.  

Since its beginnings in 1988, Sheep Mountain Alliance has been willing to be Telluride’s not- always-popular and often controversial advocate for environmental stewardship above all else. I encourage you to attend SMA’s showing of The Valley, to help keep the Valley Floor story alive, and in support of SMA and activists everywhere, fiercely defending our fragile ecosystems. It’s more urgent now than ever.


Joan May