Billionaire William Koch is building a Wild West town in the Rockies, but only family and friends will be welcome.
An Old West town being re-created by billionaire William Koch is seen from a public road near Paonia State Park in Colorado, southwest of Aspen. The town, which will not be open to the public, will include a saloon, a jail and a train station. The compound also will include a 21,762-square-foot mansion.
DENVER -- Energy billionaire William Koch is developing a private 19th century Western village, with a saloon, a jail and a train station, high in the Rocky Mountains in a region pockmarked with towns that died when the mines that supported them played out.
Koch, 72, who made his fortune partly by developing coal deposits in Somerset, Colo., is building the out-of-the-way oasis at his nearby Bear Ranch, a working cattle operation southwest of Aspen. The compound will include a 21,762-square-foot mansion with an elevator, a wine room and his-and-hers mud rooms overlooking the 50-building frontier town.
Koch is a collector of Old West memorabilia, including the only known photograph of Billy the Kid, which he bought for $2.3 million at a Denver auction last year. He plans to open the make-believe town solely to his family and friends, not the public, said Brad Goldstein, a spokesman for Oxbow Carbon, the company Koch founded and now based in West Palm Beach, Fla.
"Remember, he's using that as his home," Goldstein said. "Mr. Koch has offered to show the public his collection of Western artifacts here in Palm Beach, and he intends to do it in Washington at the Smithsonian. There's nothing, with the exception of the buildings, that the public isn't going to be able to see in those exhibits."
Goldstein declined to discuss details about the town, including whether it would house Koch's Western art collection, saying to do so would be "just giving an art thief a road map to steal something."
Land swap proposed
A land-swap deal Koch proposed to insulate his frontier town at the foot of the Ragged Mountains, an area popular with hunters and anglers, is sharply dividing organic farmers, miners and retirees who populate the region's blue-collar communities.
Koch, who Forbes estimates is worth close to $4 billion, proposed trading several parcels he owns, including land near the Curecanti National Recreation Area and Dinosaur National Monument, for property near the ranch managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, including a public road that splits the ranch and serves as access to the Gunnison National Forest. The road provides a good view of construction at the Western town, including the Victorian-style mansion.
"Bear Ranch wishes to acquire these parcels in order to consolidate their ranching activities, combine their ranch into a single contiguous parcel and solve occasional trespass and poaching issues," according to an online summary of the land exchange proposal.
The swap would give better public access to the wilderness area than the road that bisects the ranch and ends near a trailhead that's often impassable, Goldstein said.
Commissioners in Gunnison and Delta counties approved the proposal, which is opposed by some residents in Paonia, a town about 23 miles southwest of Bear Ranch.
Congress will decide
"The arrogance of the man is quite startling," said Ed Marston, former publisher of the High Country News, a Paonia-based magazine and website. "Land exchanges are supposed to be in the public interest, and there is no public interest here."
Congress will ultimately decide whether to approve the deal because it involves land managed by federal agencies in Colorado and Utah. A bill that would have exchanged 1,846 acres of federal land for 991 acres of land Koch owns died in committee in 2010.
A chemical engineer with three degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Koch is the brother of Tea Party funders David and Charles Koch. He was born and raised in Kansas and is known for his collections of art and wine. His yacht America3 won the 1992 America's Cup.