Keystone man swaps ghost town for property near River Run gondola, with plans for development
Skiers and snowboarders at Keystone Resort will soon see single-family homes going up near the River Run gondola as local Gary Miller brings a land-trade deal 13 years in the making to fruition.
Miller, a longtime Keystone area resident, obtained the prime property for the new development from the U.S. Forest Service in exchange for the soon-to-be abandoned town of Chihuahua in an agreement he says will serve to both protect the area of the former town from new development and to bring more full-time residents to the Keystone area.
The town of Chihuahua was established in the late 1800s. Most of it burned down a few years later and no one has resided there in decades, but development rights for as many as 500 units still existed at the old site. The area has since overgrown and is now a valued natural asset for many in the county.
“Today, hikers, mountain bikers, jeepers, cross-country skiers and snowshoers enjoy Chihuahua’s fabled serenity and appreciate its natural beauty,” local historian Mary Ellen Gilliland wrote in a history of the old town. “… journalist Samuel Bowles, admired the valley from Grays Peak in 1868 and called it ‘God’s country.’ ”
Miller’s wife and many of his friends were particularly interested in the preservation of the parcel, which is located in Peru Creek near Argentine Pass, and in the late 1990s through a partnership called Chihuahua LLC, Miller purchased the entire deserted town from a previous owner who was in talks to have it developed as a campground.
“Five hundred units in Peru Creek, it would have been a huge impact,” he said. “We do this for a living too, so we’re not that good of guys, but we did want to eliminate the idea of building 500 units there.”
Instead, they will be building 24 single-family units on 21 acres in a new residential community alongside the gondola at Keystone. Construction is set to begin on the first houses in the next 30 to 60 days. Miller said the properties will be built slowly, at a rate of three or four per year over the next five years depending on demand and the housing market. One of the houses has already sold.
The homes will be free market, but architecturally controlled.
“The spectacular architecture of these homes will be unique to Keystone,” Crestwood Homes vice president of sales and marketing Bob Jeske stated in a press release on the development. “These homes will be carefully placed within the forest to take advantage of the topography, to be organic and to meet the goal of creating a destination community unequaled in Summit County.”
Like the ghost town for which it was traded, the Keystone site is historically significant, as it sits on the corridor once used by Max and Edna Dercum, the couple frequently credited with first envisioning Keystone Resort, to return to their home, now the Ski Tip Lodge restaurant, after a day on the slopes. In their honor, the new neighborhood is to be called Dercum’s Dash.
The land exchange deal is in line with ongoing efforts across the county to contain development to existing urban areas through trades and density exchanges. County officials say they are taking action to officially extinguish the very old density that remained at Chihuahua and the site has been turned over to the U.S. Forest Service. State proceedings are currently underway to officially abandon the municipality that once existed there.
“It’s clearly consistent with all of our open space program goals and objectives,” Summit County manager Gary Martinez said. “This turns out to be, I think, a good deal for all. The public avoids any sort of development on that property. … That is an unbelievably cool area all the way up that drainage.”
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