DISCOVERY CHANNEL FOUNDER WHO “SAVED” GATEWAY… NOW WANTS TO SELL FOR $279 MILLION…by Jim Stiles

Gateway CO

John Hendricks is the founder and former CEO of The Discovery Channel. Almost a quarter century ago, he started buying up land near Gateway, Colorado, in order he said, “to save it.” Gateway was a small, bucolic rural wide spot in the road and its residents were, for the most part, blissfully poor. Hendricks changed all that.

He told interviewers for smartmeetings.com, “When I was growing up, my father always told me stories about the Gateway Canyons area,” Hendricks says. “The first time I visited it, I fell in love with it.”

Hendricks

According to Hendricks, he never forgot that visit, so in the late 1990s, he bought a ranch near the unincorporated town of Gateway. At first he held executive retreats there. Then he got serious.

Hendricks built a 27,000 square foot home for himself, then turned his attention to a commercial enterprise on a scale larger than anything anyone might have imagined possible.

In 2005, The Zephyr reported that:

Zephyr Story on Gateway Home

His Gateway Canyons Resort includes motels, restaurants, retails stores and one of the largest vintage automobile museums in the world. Coming soon…a golf course, convention center, a luxury vacation lodge and something called the Palisade Academy. The Grand Junction Sentinel says it’s a “getaway for intellectuals.” Hendricks calls it “a vacation for your mind.”

But this is how it works. Hendicks’ resort is expected to draw thousands of visitors. Now the BLM wants to develop a management plan for the 200,000 adjacent acres of public land.

According to the Sentinel story, “BLM spokeswoman Mel Lloyd said the resort will ‘benefit from being surrounded by public lands so their guests can go play there.’”

Here was public land, relatively untouched by anyone. Now the BLM thinks it needs to accommodate the thousands of tourists who will come to this remote part of Colorado for the first time.

The old and the new...Gateway Resort. 2010
The old and the new…Gateway Resort. 2010

Opposition to Hendricks’ Gateway dynasty by environmentalists in western Colorado was and continues to be negligible. He managed to buy off his opponents with charitable contributions to scores of non-profit organizations across the Western Slope, including land conservation easements with a value of $2,275,000 to The Nature Conservancy of Colorado.

Jump ahead a decade. Two years ago, Hendricks announced he was selling his 27,000 square foot mansion and the lands around it, including horse and bison pastures, an airstrip and hangar, helipad, stables, and even an observatory. All that for only $149 million.

And now, according to Business Insider, he wants to free himself of all his Colorado holdings; among them, Gateway Canyons Resort, to the tune of $279 million, according to the Wall Street Journal. He’s ready to ditch the luxury lodge, the vintage cars, the “72 guest suites across several lodges and private residences, five restaurants, and business conference facilities.”

It all has to go…for $279 million. Maybe he wants to get back to the simple life. One thing is for sure. Gateway will never be the same place he came to “save” twenty years ago. The place which, as it was, burned its own remote beauty into his memory so deeply, that he returned years later, to destroy it.

Gateway Resort Sign
When travelers coming down the highway reached the bottom of the valley, and the Dolores River, they found  these cottonwood trees, a magnificent pasture, and the red cliffs beyond. All that wasn’t enough for John Hendricks

Jim Stiles is Founder and Co-Publisher of the Canyon Country Zephyr.

Note: Our thanks to Jim Joslyn for noticing that we’d mislabeled the Dolores River. We appreciate it!

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9 comments for “DISCOVERY CHANNEL FOUNDER WHO “SAVED” GATEWAY… NOW WANTS TO SELL FOR $279 MILLION…by Jim Stiles

  1. Bob Sherrill
    February 3, 2020 at 6:20 pm

    I’ll have to disagree with the “relatively untouched”. The road from Gateway up John Brown Canyon was built for Uranium/Vanadium mining purposes. Union Carbide alone mined many thousands of tons for their mill in Uravan. Many other companies mined there too and what wasn’t sent to the mills went over the edge into the drainages below where removal is impossible except by forces of wind, water and gravity. Most of the surface traces of the mines have been mitigated, but plenty of evidence is still there.

    I happen to think that the resort was an improvement over the resource extraction industry that employed and killed many of its workers. That said, I also think that the resort complex was a little overkill. I wonder if the gnats won out?

  2. Bob
    February 4, 2020 at 8:48 am

    This morning I discussed this article with my wife and her comment was “maybe they could make it a private prison.” I quickly added “For the ultra rich”, she came back with “Can we put on our DISCOVER Card?”. She makes me laugh so much.
    My history in this area goes back to 1965 when my father moved our family from Denver to Nucla where he would take over the wildlife conservation officer position. Mom cried, I was OK with it. He and another officer would “raid” the mining camps above Gateway once a year or so just to let them know that there are laws governing the taking of wild game. He knew that he was pissing in the wind, but he had a job to do.
    Fast forward to1978 and I’m a geologist camped out at the abandoned Cherokee Shaft overlooking Gateway. When the clouds would settle in over the town, the Palisade looked like a ship on an ancient ocean. One of my most beautiful memories up there.
    I also remember a teenage girl driving a D8 Catipillar dozer from worksite to worksite as the owner who lived in Gateway thought if she had a job, made some money for herself, she might avoid being pregnant before she finished school. A relatively common event then.
    Jump to the late 1990’s and this man Hendricks want to open a world class “Educational Center” patterned after the Discovery Channel. What’s wrong with that? Gateway residents got a sewer system free of charge. Good jobs became available. Enviromental awareness was bought and taught. History was preserved for all to see and remember.
    So what went wrong? Capitalism demands a return on investment. I watched it progress from education to golf course plans to off road driving school, retail outlets and so on. Apparently it’s a money pit. Thomas Edison said about his iron mine investment “I threw a million dollars into that hole and didn’t even hear it hit bottom”. Trillions have been toss into the NWO and the only noise I hear is we have to “Stay the Course”.
    Maybe something workable can come out of this yet? My wife may be on to something.

  3. Jim Joslyn
    February 9, 2020 at 5:50 pm

    It is the Delores River that flows through Gateway not the San Miguel. The Delores River flows down the Gateway Canyon through Gateway to the to the Colorado River. It forms the southern boundary of an area known as the Triangle with the Colorado River the western and northern boundary and the Colorado and Utah State line as the eastern boundary. I remember in the early 1990s riding through Gateway and wondering if the gas station would have gas if I needed it. It had a very small Volunteer Fire Department but very dedicated. I was sorry to see Hendrick’s development come to Gateway. I enjoy the Zeyphyr as it does bring back memories of what the area you live in was. I have lived in Colorado since 1957 and have seen the tourist development take over the mountain towns so they are now unrecognizable to myself and my wife.

    Thanks for a great publication.

  4. Bob
    February 10, 2020 at 5:26 am

    Jim J.
    While we’re in the Correction Mode here, let’s with Dolores River which flows NW through Dolores River Canyon on it’s way to the Colorado River. Gateway Canyon drainage is a mile downstream of old Gateway.
    Now that that’s settled, (and if you don’t, check a BLM map and get back), I agree with the rest.

    Jim S.
    Just finished your rant on Bluff. Yep.
    Let’s try to find a positive here. I believe Abby did in his own way. Some old crusty guy, Walley Windfield comes to mind, comes down off the mesa, Dolores Point), where he has camped for forty years trying to make a go of it in the mining business, (all true so far), and gets in a little trouble in New Gateway. Ends up stealing a classic million dollar to make his get away. Take it from there.
    Now Abby wrote this story The Brave Cowboy which I think was one of his best. Hollywood takes it, blacklisted Dalton Trumbo writes the movie script under a fake name, (still true to life), for Lonely are the Brave and it stars Kurt Douglas as Jack Burns. Costars Walter Matthau, Carrol O’Conner, Bill Bixby and others.
    Kurt Douglas refered to this as his favorite film. Mine too. What an honor for Abby. Now that Kurt has passed, maybe they can do a remake, but nobody could ever play Jack Burns quite like Douglas.

    I’ve got some more ideas too. Like it might be time to make the sheepherder a hero. Ivan Doig’s Under a Western Sky would have been great, but as it was a memoir of his youth, he refused to sell it to “those people”. Don’t blame him, but I know other sheepherder stories.

  5. Bob
    February 15, 2020 at 12:37 am
  6. ralph casto
    February 17, 2020 at 4:24 pm

    He did get rid of a bunch of the “poor” people but I dont know if he saved anyone. My Mother probably fits that description along with most of the natives there and save for a couple or three they are not poor in Gateway anymore as they have had to leave for varios reasons one of which is the higher property taxes brought on by development but thank the good lord he saved the poor little town before he got bored.

  7. Carol Duncan
    February 17, 2020 at 8:00 pm

    I don’t think he saved anything!!! Some one should tell him so!!

  8. Kay
    March 23, 2020 at 10:14 am

    Jim, your story of that area is so interesting to me. Years ago with a bunch of botanists I saw Gateway for the first time. Even then it was taking on the look of a place for rich people only. We stopped and looked around for a few minutes and I have wondered ever since how it all turned out. Now I know and feel sadness for what was once there and will never be the same.

  9. March 23, 2020 at 4:59 pm

    Like a superficial corporate-type looking for the perfect trophy wife, John Hendricks fell in love with Gateway for its looks. The television mogul from Maryland had good, though nescient intentions; to save a small (drop-dead gorgeous) western town from its own people. Where he saw poverty, Gateway locals saw a hardscrabble way of life where booms and busts were as predictable and survivable as the seasons of the year. Where Hendricks saw an economic infusion of industrial tourism, the locals saw an invading city boy unconnected from the people, the traditional economy, and its introverted, rural disposition. Where Hendricks saw an opportunity to attract celebrities and wealthy urbanites to a red rock wonderland, Gateway’s families saw an effort by an outsider to buy up land and drive the local real estate market into the stratosphere. I taught at the tiny Gateway School for nearly three years. During that time, as Hendricks’ resort grew in size and consequence, the student body of the rural K-12 school shrank. Hendricks’ dream spawned bitter resent between locals and Gateway Canyons’ super-rich clientele and seasonal foreign workforce, and changed a western agricultural town into a fickle monument to outdoor recreation chic. Starry-eyed developers who adhere to the falsities of industrial tourism are despoiling small, resource-based towns throughout the west.

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