Between the 1940s and 1970s, a 120-acre plot just outside of Naturita, Colorado served as a company town for Vanadium Corporation of America engineers working in a nearby uranium mill. When the mill closed in the 1970s, the site’s 14 cabins became year-round rentals for people living in this remote region of southwestern Colorado.
Now, the property has transformed once again into CampV, an Instagram-worthy glamping destination and arts community along the San Miguel River. Located about an hour’s drive from Telluride and 90 minutes from Moab, CampV is nestled against the western border of the San Juan Mountains among the red rock landscape of this remote, high desert corner of the Centennial State.
Co-founders Natalie Binder, Jodie Wright and Bruce Wright spent four years upgrading the property, renovating the historic cabins and adding trendy glamping tents and Airstream trailers for travelers to spend the night. Through their nonprofit WEarts, they also added experiential art installations, like artist Brooke Einbender’s “The Unknown Zone,” a piece made up of colorful old doors, and Abram Santa Cruz’s “Electric Dandelions,” which blink through a series of light effects each night. The site is also home to RV and tent camping sites, a swimming pond, and hiking trails.
The historic property’s journey to become CampV, which opened in spring 2021, started with Binder. Around five years ago, Binder began contemplating the next chapter in her life. She’d run a high-end vacation rental company and helped with hotel development projects, among other professional achievements in hospitality, real estate and construction, but she wanted to pursue a project of her own.
“I wanted to get back to something that felt a little bit more organic and authentic and was more of a complement to the community,” she said. “Also, I just wanted to take all of my collective experience and dive into something that was a bit more my flavor and my style.”
In 2017, Binder became intrigued by a newly listed 120-acre parcel northwest of Naturita. Not only did the remote plot seem perfect for a rugged arts and hospitality venture, but it also had historical ties to her family: Her grandmother worked as a secretary to the president of the Vanadium Corp., so her father lived on the site as a child. On her mother’s side of the family, she had a great-grandfather who worked at a nearby uranium mine and a grandmother who served as superintendent of the local school system and, later, as Montrose County judge. Her family also owned the Binder’s Texaco, a gas station and popular social hub for miners.
She bought the property, then joined forces with Telluride-based architects Jodie and Bruce Wright; together, they also secured investment funding from Steamboat Springs’ Four Points Funding.
“I didn’t grow up in this community but my family did, so they have fond memories of it being a bustling mining community,” said Binder, who grew up in rural Wyoming and now splits her time between Telluride and Naturita. “When mining left, much of the economy crashed and this is one of the last remaining pieces from that history that still exists. It felt like an opportunity to restore something that was this big piece of history but, at the same time, because of where it’s located in a more rural environment, it opens up so much more opportunity to be really creative.”
She was also motivated to bring vibrant arts and culture programming to a part of the state that lacks those opportunities because of its remoteness. In addition to the existing art installations, CampV hosts an annual music festival called Planet V and recently received a $2 million gap funding grant from the state’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) to build a public art and event space with workforce housing on the property.
“Everybody deserves access to it, but art is a great connector and especially when you feel like your only opportunities are to work in the mine or work in something associated with that, art opens up opportunities you might not traditionally think of, like carpentry, painting, welding, working with metal,” Binder said.
CampV is part of a burgeoning redevelopment movement in the West End, which encompasses the towns of Naturita, Nucla, Bedrock, Redvale, Paradox and Norwood on the far west side of Montrose and San Miguel counties. These communities are still recovering from the “enormous economical upheaval” brought on by the closure of the New Horizon Coal Mine in 2017 and the shuttering of the coal-fired Nucla Tri-State Power & Generation Station in 2019, according to Deana Sheriff, executive director of the West End Economic Development Corporation (WEEDC).
“The survival of these communities is dependent on fostering economic activity, diversifying the local economy and creating and growing opportunities for family-supporting jobs,” she said.
To achieve those goals, WEEDC and the Telluride Foundation launched the Advance West End project, which was funded by a matching grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration in 2018. Through the project, West End economic development staffers are focused on improving the region’s sustainability and resilience by supporting small businesses, entrepreneurship, agriculture, local food, outdoor recreation, and tourism.
The grant funding allowed WEEDC to hire an economic development director and business development manager, who now provide business support, coaching and economic development services. Today, entrepreneurs can attend workshops or work out of the Collective Mine, a business incubation and co-working space located in downtown Naturita. Because of the renewed focus on economic development, 188 new businesses have opened in the West End, creating roughly 220 new jobs, according to Sheriff.
“We’re proud to say the West End is recovering well, commercial businesses are getting established and thriving and we look forward to a strong, diversified economy in the very near future,” she said.
For tourism, CampV is a big win for the region, which is ripe for mountain biking, hiking, off-highway vehicles, star-gazing and other outdoor adventures. And though Binder and her co-founders were initially met with skepticism — both from investors, but also from friends and family — it seems their big risk is paying off. CampV recently celebrated its one-year anniversary and, with help from coverage from national travel publications like Travel & Leisure, is inspiring travelers to venture off the beaten path and explore the West End.
“It’s a beautiful property with great history — it’s a ‘create it and they’ll come’ scenario,” Binder said. “It’s been so fun to have all these people come back around who were like, ‘I thought this was a horrible idea and now that I’m here, this is incredible.’ For entrepreneurs, there’s that people-pleasing aspect, but you really have to ground into your vision and hold strong. Of course, it’s great listening to people but, especially in the beginning, you have to listen to yourself.”
This article is republished from Startup Colorado, an initiative of the University of Colorado. See the original post at Startup Colorado.