UPDATE: On August 31, 2023, I asked Westword why they continued to publish more articles about this incident. They responded but did not address any of my questions.
A reporter at Denver Westword Magazine is facing bitter criticism from outdoor recreation advocates, law enforcement, and local landowners after writing a story that promotes and glorifies trespassing on closed peaks. The original article, published on August 2, created a firestorm when published, with advocates concerned that this open trespassing could risk access to the recently opened Decalibron Loop’s three other 14ers: Mount Democrat, Mount Lincoln, and Mount Cameron.
In the article, Westword Staff Reporter Bennito Kelty openly admits he trespassed on Mount Bross despite knowing it was closed. He brazenly ends the story by quoting a hiker he says he agrees with, who said, ‘“They can fine me or whatever — I don’t care. It’s just so beautiful up here.”
Despite being asked by the Fix CRUS Coalition, Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, Park County Sheriff, and the landowner of the peak himself to take down the article – Westword has refused, instead allowing them to publish a rebuttal and a follow-up piece from Bennito explaining his actions and the criticism he received. As of today, neither Bennito nor Westword has apologized for their illegal activity and the threat they pose to access.
The Decalibron Loop closed last April after a bill died in the state legislature that would’ve provided more landowner liability protections in exchange for free public access. The Fix CRUS Coalition formed in response to try to find a path forward and restore access to these peaks and others, including Mount Lindsey, that remain closed. A collaborative waiver system implemented in July restored short-term access to the area, but only temporarily until a long-term legislative fix is achieved.
The actions of Bennito and Westword puts this newly-secured access in peril, threatening to throw a wrench into the partnerships responsible for finding a solution. “Landowners like John want to allow the public on their land, they just don’t want to be sued and lose everything they own in the process,” said Alex Derr of the Fix CRUS Coalition. “We’ve spend more than a decade creating strong relationships with these landowners to work together, but these trespassers actively damage that partnership and put our entire approach in peril.”
Westword’s actions did not go unnoticed by local law enforcement, with Park County Sheriff Tom McGraw calling the reporter and issuing a stern warning not to repeat his stunt. While the Sheriff looked into formal charges, the local landowners declined to make a formal complaint, preferring to work towards a collaborative solution, even when Bennito and Westword did not.
In the most recent update to the story, Westword published a follow-up piece discussing the Sheriff’s call and explaining why the decision to climb Mount Bross threatened access. However, they still did not formally apologize for publishing their illegal behavior, which continues to be shared on their website, generating ad revenue and normalizing trespassing.
The Fix CRUS Coalition and other groups continues to ask that Westword and Bennito remove the article immediately, issue a formal apology, and dedicate themselves to protecting outdoor recreation in Colorado instead of actively jeopardizing access for the public.