The documentary “The Valley” won the Best Impact Film at the 2019 Sedona International Film Festival and was recently shown again at the Mary D. Fisher Theatre due to popular demand. I went to see the film with the hopes of using some of the hard-earned lessons from Telluride, Colorado to help protect our sacred land in Sedona from future uncontrolled development. Here is a recap of what I learned.
Defense contractor Neal Blue paid $6 million for Telluride’s Valley Floor in 1983, at a time when the land was saturated with heavy metals and other toxic substances, built up from years of mining. Ten years later a fax was sent to the wrong number, leaking plans to transform the high-alpine wetlands (considered the gateway into Telluride and a defining character of the town) into a housing complex replete with artificial lakes, sprawling homes and manicured golf greens. Many of liberal Telluride’s residents were horrified by the proposal and they joined together to preserve this precious ecosystem.
This film documents the years-long battle to transfer ownership of the valley floor to the town, in an effort to keep a little piece of their valley forever wild. Through herculean fundraising efforts, they were able to raise $50 million dollars in 3 months to save the land. This is a story of three dedicated women who led the fight to save their community’s most precious resource.
Watch the trailer:
TOP 5 TAKE-AWAYS
After the film, the directors answered questions from the audience. With regards to how other towns can learn from Telluride, they stressed:
1. The town has to come together and work together on it, that is the main critical factor for success! Divisiveness and in-fighting can waste precious time when working against a looming deadline. Around seven or eight very passionate people formed a committee in Telluride almost immediately, and began working full-time on fundraising ideas and a PR plan.
2. Once public perception is that the people are behind it, it will snowball. For example, in Telluride, as part of the fundrasising efforts children started doing bake sales, and the town installed a “wishing well” where locals could throw in loose change toward the fundraiser. Who would’ve thought they would raise over 1 million dollars from loose change in a town of only about 2,000 residents? What happened is that companies started to pledge a day of sales to the wishing well, people formed teams and created “challenges” (think of the Alzheimer’s “ice bucket challenge” and similar viral fundraisers) and others matched pledges as the fundraiser became popular and the whole town got behind it.
I took notes from the film and here are a few more points I wanted to share:
3. When contacting residents with large resources, you need to show them that the town is behind the effort before asking for contributions. These are the people who have second houses, celebrities, and those who spend a lot of time on the land. Don’t be afraid to ask multiple times – timing is everything and it might not be the right time until the 3rd or 4th time you ask.
4. There are organizations that provide grants + help with land acquisition and land conservation across the country. Contact them at the beginning of your fight and get them involved on your behalf!
5. Never give up! The Telluride experience was fraught with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. The committee even brought in a marketing company initially to do a report. After their research was done, they said they didn’t want to be involved in something that would not be successful and they bowed out. This did not stop the committee of dedicated volunteers (and they kept the results of this report a secret, so as not to affect the resolve of the town)!
I’m reminded of what happened on the Sedona Bulletin Board on Facebook when a few local women began to organize against Sedona’s El Rojo Grande Ranch being sold to a developer with plans to turn this important riparian land into 600 manufactured homes and a 50+ RV park. Many of the locals rudely responded to initial efforts and the naysayers came out of the woodwork, trying to squash any hope of a successful resistance. Yet, love for the land prevailed and in the end, over a hundred Sedona locals showed up wearing red to the courthouse on the day of a re-zoning vote and the re-zoning was ultimately denied. A beautiful lesson on what is possible when we join together and use our voices to protect that which is sacred to us.