Today, with a strong Board and staff, the future of Willowtail Springs Nature Preserve and Education Center to accomplish its mission looks positive: “Enriching our community by building a creative network of practitioners in the arts and ecology through inspiration and place.” We got here through the hard work of two dedicated individuals and assistance from the SW Colorado community. This is how we arrived at this happy place:
In 1992, Peggy Conklin, a successful Seattle visionary artist, purchased 40 secluded acres of picturesque property outside Mancos, Colorado, repaired and renovated historical buildings, transforming the property into an inspirational oasis of natural beauty and creation. To finance her vision, she renovated the three cabins to rent them for creative retreats and hands-on study. In 1999, Peggy’s friend Lee Cloy left his Property Management position at the Archdiocese of Seattle to join Peggy and teach Tai Chi classes, which they offered on-site to the local community. The two soon married and Lee took over management of Willowtail’s vast resources.
By 2011, the Cloys had further enhanced the three cabins, barn and an artist studio and built a second barn and a Gallery/Meeting space. They also purchased twenty additional acres to extend the property and water systems. Small business loans and grants from the state and federal sources enabled them to send irrigation water throughout the 60 acres and create wildlife ponds, enhancing habitat for large raptors. Lee stocked the main lake with local fish. With help from scientists, Lee initiated a four-year program to save 7500 pinion and ponderosa trees from infestation by the IPS beetle. Now over 150 bird species either live on the property or migrate through. Willowtail now holds a special appeal for working scientists and artists of all disciplines; natural scientists as a site to study what the rich environment offers; and visual and performance artists for creative inspiration. The idea of supporting Residencies in the Arts and Natural Sciences soon emerged to increase accessibility to the grounds and its buildings for artists and scientists who could not afford extended stays.
2012-2019: Willowtail Springs Nature Preserve and Education Center sought and gained nonprofit tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) organization and formed a Board to oversee it. Peggy and Lee worked hard to form partnerships with local arts groups and obtained funding from local resources and foundations to help support a program of subsidized Residencies for the Arts and Natural Sciences, which began to grow and attract both candidates and funding sources from well outside the area, both national and international. Importantly, as part of their commitment, each studio resident agrees to share their process and work with the local community via presentations, demonstrations, workshops and/or classes.
Despite these encouraging programmatic successes, various economic challenges led to a need to change how Willowtail is managed in the future. Fortunately, in 2018, long-time supporter and Board member, Margi Gaddis, stepped in to buy the property and lease it back to Willowtail Springs Nature Preserve and Education Center. Terms of the agreement stipulate that the Cloys remain on the premises to continue operations. This enabled the Board and Staff to reorganize the business model into one combined entity, operating under a 501(c)(3) umbrella, which provides increased operational efficiencies and an ability to expand educational programs focused on the environment.
Now in 2023, with a strong Board and staff we are fully confident in our enhanced capability to grow our mission. The environmental focus of Willowtail Springs Nature Preserve and Education Center definitely looks promising. We feel that we can confidently and truly “enrich our community by building a creative network of practitioners in the arts and ecology through inspiration and place.”
Phone: (970) 533-7592 or (970) 560-0333
PO Box 89
Mancos CO 81328
10451 County Road 39
Mancos CO 81328