Monday, October 04, 2010

'The Buzzard of Backcountry' Strikes It Rich in National Parks

The luxury home that Thomas Chapman built on the lip of the magnificent Black Canyon here isn't just an investment. It's a provocation. Mr. Chapman, a small-town real-estate broker, has made a controversial career trading scattered parcels of private land that sit inside national forests and national parks. On behalf of his clients or his business partners, he talks up plans to develop the parcels: a subdivision at a scenic overlook, an RV park on a canyon rim, a rustic estate inside a remote wilderness area. Sometimes he even brings out the bulldozers. Environmentalists sound the alarm. And often, the government or conservationists come with money or a land swap to buy him out, saving the cherished parcel from development—and making Mr. Chapman money. Now, as the Obama Administration launches a "Great Outdoors Initiative" aimed at expanding protection of America's scenic spots, Mr. Chapman has made his boldest move yet. He and his business partners bought a 112-acre parcel within the boundaries of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in rugged western Colorado. They spent $240,000 for land the federal government had recently appraised at $175,000. When no conservationists stepped forward to buy the land, Mr. Chapman raised the ante: He built a 4,800-square-foot home on the canyon rim, which he has put on the market for $13 million, helicopter included. And he sold off a second home site—on higher ground, with even more spectacular views—for $2.1 million...more

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