Silverton, the once-gritty mining town home to Wild West-fabled gangs and shootings, rough-and-tumble miner bars and a legacy of men risking their lives to strike it rich, could soon be home to a new “glamping” campground.
“I’d rather have a nice big mine than a glamping campground,” said San Juan County Commissioner Ernie Kuhlman, a former miner and longtime resident of Silverton. “But times change, you know what I mean?”
For the unacquainted, “glamping” – a linguistic blend of glamour and camping – is a relatively new style of camping that some resorts offer to meet the needs of people who want to experience the great outdoors with all the amenities – and more – of a luxury hotel.
According to GlampingHub.com, glamping allows people to be outside “all without sacrificing even an ounce of comfort. Glamping is a way to connect with your surroundings without having to rough it.”
The luxury resort would be a first for Silverton, so it’s not that unusual many in the area haven’t heard about it before.
“I didn’t even know what it was until it was brought to us,” said San Juan County Commissioner Scott Fetchenheir, also a longtime resident of Silverton who worked in the mines.
“It just seems more and more people want to experience (the outdoors), but they don’t want to be cold or sleep on a hard ground. It’s just a sign of the times.”
There’s a wide range of amenities and levels in the glamping world. On the high end of the spectrum, some resorts offer heated floors, meals prepared by chefs and extravagant hunting trips that can run more than $1,000 a night.
However, Dennis Stenslien, co-owner of the property and who would operate the business, said the campground would be more of an “on your own experience.”
The proposed resort would be located on a 20-acre parcel just off U.S. Highway 550 on the turn toward South Mineral Campground and the Ice Lakes trailhead, on Forest Service Road 585.
However, the luxury campground would comprise only a fraction of that space, which would have a capacity for up to 14 campsites, Stenslien said
Stenslien said the campsites will be located on a wooden platform, covered by a large wall tent and fitted by high-end furniture, luxury beds and down comforters.
He intends to build a bathhouse with a community room attached as well as a sauna. And, he said great pains will be taken to blend the resort into the surrounding scenery to preserve the scenic nature of the area.
The only meals offered would be a continental breakfast, and lunches to go if requested. Stenslien and his business partner, Steve Lee, would also like to offer horseback riding tours, guided fishing and hiking trips, as well as educational nature programs.
If all goes well, the business partners hope to start construction this summer, with a target opening date of summer 2019. He said a rough estimate for a night’s stay would be about $200.
San Juan County Planning Director Mark Reavis said the owners have gone to great lengths to conduct the proper environmental impact studies and obtain access to the property from the U.S. Forest Service.
And, the project meets the county’s long-term master plan for economic development, Reavis said.
“I think it’s an ideal situation here,” Reavis said. “It’s nothing like a motor luxury coach resort,” he said referring to a separate and previous proposal that failed earlier this year. “It’s much more compatible to our world here.”
The proposal went before the San Juan County Planning Department on Tuesday, and then before San Juan County commissioners for a public hearing and final vote on Friday.
It’s likely the glamping campground will pass without issue, commissioners said. But it’s also yet another sign that the small mountain hamlet, which has about 600 full-time residents, is far past its mining days and is ever more embracing its tourism economy.
“I do not foresee mining coming back,” Fetchenheir said. “And to diversify our economy, which is mostly dependent on the (Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad), you want other things in place. I think this is a great example of one of those things that’ll work.”