perfume ralph lauren hombre Commotion Over the Sale of John Denver’s Sanctuary
SNOWMASS, Colo. John Denver was a troubadour of Colorado, singing of clear skies and country roads, sunshine on his shoulder and Rocky Mountain highs.
Sixteen years after his into a California bay, Mr. Denver’s music endures at bars and folk festivals, and one of his tunes is enshrined as a Colorado state song. But his other bequest, a love for conservation and the mountains, has become tangled in a dispute over money, real estate and emotional questions about how to preserve his legacy.
In the 1970s, Mr. Denver bought 957 acres of mountain valley and juniper hills as a stage for his utopian dreams. The land, perched about 15 miles north of Aspen, was once a potato farm, then a retreat for a Benedictine monastery. Mr. Denver named it Windstar, and set up a foundation there that ran summer camps and eclectic symposiums about the environment, community and saving the world.
But everything fades. Without Mr. Denver, his Windstar Foundation straggled along for years as members fell away and its money and momentum dried up. Last autumn, the foundation’s board voted to dissolve and decided to sell off the land where hundreds of people had once camped in tepees, cultivated experimental gardens, built biodomes and meditated under the stars.
Some people who had volunteered for the foundation said they knew nothing about the sale until it was announced in a news release in April. Others were critical of the secrecy surrounding the $8.5 million deal.
All this commotion has forced onetime leaders of Mr. Denver’s foundation to defend their actions against accusations that they sold off a piece of his legacy to the highest bidder.
“I felt blindsided, stabbed in the back,” said Mr. Denver’s brother, Ron Deutschendorf, who had been president of the Windstar Foundation. “It was like a piece of my heart had been sold off.”
But to whom? In a mountain community where real estate is both economic engine and gossip mill, the question of the buyer’s identity has fueled intrigue.
“This thing happened so fast and so secretly,” said Kevin Ward, who lives next to Windstar.
Officially, the land’s new owner is a company called Five Valley Farm, a small private corporation created last December. The only name on file with the state appears to be that of a 24 year old notary whose signature helped to create the business.
Neighbors say they believe the true buyer and the person behind Five Valley Farm is a billionaire oil developer from Texas named Jeffery Hildebrand, who owns a boutique ranch and a polo field on the other side of Mr. Denver’s Windstar property.
In 1996, the Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit energy conservation group, bought a 50 percent stake in the Windstar land. The group worked to put in place a conservation easement to ensure that nearly all of the property would remain undeveloped. The agreement preserves all but 30 acres of the property and is in effect, essentially, forever.
“It’s always going to be here,” said Karmen Dopslaff, a longtime friend of Mr. Denver’s and a board member of the Windstar Foundation who voted to wind down the group and go ahead with the sale.
The new owners of Windstar cannot stud the property with subdivisions, but they do have the right to build a luxury home on the 30 acres that are not set aside for preservation under the conservation agreement. That piece of the land lies closest to the road and now houses the Rocky Mountain Institute’s headquarters. The institute is planning to move to the nearby town of Basalt.
The land will remain open to the public. But critics of the sale say they worry that Windstar’s new owners will scrap a public parking lot at its entrance, making public access more difficult. And they say Mr. Denver would not have wanted a million dollar home on land that had once been dedicated to solving the world’s problems.
“It was his sanctuary,” said Linda Luke, who moved to Colorado from Massachusetts after meeting Mr. Denver at a concert. She spent years volunteering for the foundation. “It was where he found his peace and quiet. It was what he wanted everyone to be able to experience.”
Before Windstar was sold, Ms. Dopslaff said she and other members of the foundation consulted with Mr. Denver’s close friends and a former wife whom he had stayed close to. Ms. Dopslaff said they all supported the sale. The foundation’s $4 million share of the proceeds went straight to a charity in Aspen.
Marty Pickett, the executive director of the Rocky Mountain Institute, said the backlash was rooted in misunderstanding. But it seems to be as melancholy as angry, a reaction to losing a place that once exemplified Aspen’s woolier hippie past. Eventually, officials said, they will have to remove the skeleton of a biodome on the site, and find a new home for a statue of Mr. Denver.
Michael Kinsley has spent some 40 years on the land, as an employee of the Rocky Mountain Institute and a friend of people involved with Mr. Denver’s foundation. He approved of the sale and said he was not concerned about the future of the land. But he still felt a twinge at leaving.