Catamount Center Gains Resort Permit Group Dubbed as “Tree Huggers with Chain Saws” Rick Langenberg


How times have changed for the Catamount Center near Woodland Park, which once was invaded by a huge open space controversy that involved state officials, a former board of commissioners and many angry residents and neighbors.

The feud even prompted political recall threats, lawsuit attempts and the possibility of the state snagging Great Outdoor Colorado funds from the county. For years, the county and the then Catamount Institute struggled over a way to secure public access to a prime open space area, which took nearly 10 years to resolve. In the process, the group was criticized by some as being elite environmentalists and trying to delay public access. This newspaper even once did a bogus April Fool’s story on plans for an auto raceway at the Catamount Institute retreat in an attempt to poke fun at the open space brouhaha

However, all these memories have been forgotten, with the Catamount Center last week easily obtaining a special use permit for a resort designation by the Teller County commissioners. With this permit, the center can do modest improvements and can accommodate more students and overnight guests. About the only concerns voiced by the commissioners dealt with possible overnight campers using the area, and how they planned to transport their waste

In fact, based on the conclusions of last week’s discussion, the Catamount Center has progressed well from these earlier turbulent times towards gaining a distinction as one of the leading environmental schools and ecological retreats in the region.

“We are really a school. We are not really a resort,” said Howard Drossman, a Colorado College professor and co-founder of the Catamount Center, during a presentation before the county commissioners last week.

He reminded the commissioners of the leading role their group played in preserving this area, with the help of a previous board of county leaders. This pristine area was once owned by the YMCA and faced considerable development pressure. According to Drossman, the Catamount group invested a major portion of the monies needed to purchase 1,600 acres, valued as key wildlife habitat. They also worked with the county in establishing a parking area off Edlowe Road for public access, which opened for limited use about 10 years ago.

Drossman stressed that the Catamount Center is now gaining distinction as a premiere ecological and research center, with an emphasis on teacher training for Colorado College and introducing the outdoors to many kids in the area and disadvantaged youth.
“We hope to grow in a modest fashion,” added Drossman. Many of the improvements endorsed by the county staff dealt with improving current facilities. “We want to build upon our success.”

Julie Francis, the wife of Howard Drossman and another key founder of the group, praised the partnership between the center and Teller County. “I am very proud that the Catamount Center is in Teller County,” said Francis. Like Drossman, she said the main mission of their group has been to “start an environmental school.”

With the changes approved, the Catamount Center will be allowed to accommodate 11,000 students on an annual basis and have 60 overnight guests on any day of the year It also can make enhancements to a number of its structures by modernizing the facilities.

The commissioners expressed few concerns about the permit request. If anything, they encouraged the group to get the word out more of the educational benefits they provide for kids in Teller County.

The commissioners, though, did ask if the group was involved in fuel mitigation projects, in lieu of the wildfire dangers. Sometimes these goals clash with environmental ideals. Drossman promptly said yes, without hesitation. At the same time, he jokingly described their group as “environmentalists with chain saws. We are tree huggers, but we do cut down trees.”

The Catamount Center group was even referred to as, “Tree Huggers with chain saws.”

Rental moving equipment service get approved
In other permit changes, county leaders last week also okayed a land use change that permits rental moving equipment as a conditional use in the commercial-one zone.

The change was prompted by the business operations of the Outpost Feed and Ranch Supply in Florissant. The business owner, Ginger Bruvold, sought to expand the rental moving equipment aspects of their business. They had been operating such a franchise for about a decade. But county officials determined that no such permit existed for this type of operation, or is it allowed in this zone. For a brief several week period, the company’s rental moving services were shut down, until a temporary permit was granted. The county planning staff then wanted to explore the possibility of making a land use change that would allow these services through a conditional use permit.

Meanwhile, the owners of the business, citing the big need for this service, collected nearly 1,000 signatures on a petition requesting the land use change in this particular zone. This service has big demands in both Teller and Park counties. County officials also reported receiving no opposition to the request.

During last week’s hearing, Teller County Planner Dan Williams recommended making the change, citing the economic importance of the change for the Outpost Feed and Ranch Supply and the need for this service in the area. He said this service represented nearly 25 percent of their total income.

The commissioners unanimously approved the request and lauded the business owners for their patience in going through the land use process. “It is an important business,” said Commissioner Marc Dettenrieder. “This text amendment (change in the land use rules) makes sense.”