Resort’s flight plan buffeted by opponents

County board rejects idea by Gateway Canyons founder

John Hendricks’ vision for a commercial air tourism operation for his Gateway Canyons Resort has flown into some severe turbulence.

On Tuesday night in Gateway, by a 4-3 vote the Mesa County Planning Commission rejected Hendricks’ plan. The Mesa County Commission will hear the proposal May 12.

Hendricks, the founder of the Discovery Channel,  founded Gateway Canyons Resort in 2001. It is about 50 miles southwest of Grand Junction.

Hendricks’ private runway is three miles east of the Gateway community.

Many Gateway residents attended the meeting with signed pledges in hand, refusing to give Hendricks an aviation “easement” permitting him to fly over their property.

“(Hendricks) has a lot of money and a lot of land, and he can put it somewhere else,” said Rowena McLaughlin, one of nine who signed and submitted notices of no-flyover easements. “I’m hoping they don’t get to fly over our rooftops. As far as I can see, (Hendricks) has plenty of resources.”

Representatives from the resort contend no such easement is required.

The major point of contention is the noise the high-performance Cessna Caravan planes and Eurocopter helicopters would make. Results of a recent sound study, paid for by the resort, found that if the planes taking off from Hendricks’ private 2,700-feet-long airstrip would bank to the east after takeoff, the noise level is equivalent to a semitrailer passing on Colorado Highway 141, the only paved road in and out of the canyon, said John Williams, spokesman for the resort.

In addition, the Hendricks family has used the airstrip for years without complaint, Williams said.

An alternate airstrip nearby is mostly on Bureau of Land Management property. A sliver of it is on Hendricks’ land. To date, discussions between the resort and BLM have yielded no fruit.

Many, including the man who built the runway, 62-year-old Bill Hubbard of Loma, say it is a better choice than the strip Hendricks has proposed.

“We built that strip (in the early 1960s) with a tractor and an old grader and a D-4 Cat, and that is all we had, but we learned to fly out there,” Hubbard said.

The Hubbard family home used to sit where Hendricks’ auto museum is today. As cattle and pig ranchers, the family would use planes to round up the herds that were let loose to graze.

The “Hubbard Runway” is a good alternative, but it is problematic, Williams said.

“I actually think that may be a great venue for scenic tours some day,” he added.

Even if Hendricks jumps through the BLM hoops and gets its approval for commercial use, the resort still would have to apply for a conditional-use permit from the county, Williams said.

Williams said he will attempt to better explain the sound issue to the Mesa County Commission in May. 

“I am convinced that we will run this operation well, and we will be able to fly flight paths that aren’t disturbing to the residents of Gateway,” he said.


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