All of these things combine to make Telluride a place that appreciates its heritage and uses it in enlightened ways to provide an enviable quality of life for its residents and visitors.
Allow the Valley Floor to be developed, however, and that will inevitably change, perhaps not all at once but certainly over time. It will place Telluride on a slippery slope to becoming just another resort that puts a higher premium on commercial development than on preserving its natural and cultural heritage. It will send an unmistakable signal that this is not such a special place after all, and that will almost certainly mean fewer people coming here either to visit or to live. Travel writer Arthur Frommer says that people do not come to places that have “lost their soul.”
The economic case against developing the floor deserves more attention than it has received, particularly from those whose livelihoods depend on increased visitation. But as strong as it is, it is not the most compelling case. That belongs to the undeniable fact that Telluride’s physical character and integrity will be profoundly and forever compromised by the loss of its context.
The two things that provide Telluride’s context are the mountains that surround it and the Valley Floor that is its approach—its front yard. Take either of them away and you have a different place, a much lesser place. A national historic landmark district like Telluride does not exist in a vacuum; it exists in a context and it depends on that context for integrity.
In the end, issues such as this invariably come down to a question of values, and it is encouraging to see so many in the area coming down on the side of valuing the Valley Floor’s beauty and heritage. But there are obviously powerful forces on the other side who don’t share those values and whose considerable resources may, in the end, allow them to prevail.
Maybe Telluride should be a candidate for the National Trust’s 2001 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list.