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by Kathy Myrick

Between the high-alpine desert and lush forests of Southwest Colorado, two dreamers have poured a quarter of their lives into creating a haven for artists and environmental enthusiasts. Renowned sculptor and painter Peggy Cloy and her husband Lee began improvements on their secluded 60-acre property, Willowtail Springs Nature Preserve and Education Center, more than two decades ago. It’s since flourished into a source of discovery and wonder as one of the Four Corners’ most treasured oases.

This bed-and-breakfast hideaway features three cozy lakefront cabins with stunning views of the La Plata Mountains and Mesa Verde National Park. Over the years, Peggy and Lee have learned how to work with the land to save thousands of old-growth trees from bark beetle infestations and establish ponds and complex water systems, enhancing a healthy bird habitat and wildlife corridor. These improvements paved the way for Willowtail Springs to be officially designated as a 501(c)3 non-profit in 2012, with the bed-and-breakfast income providing a sustainable source of revenue for their array of creative community-based programs.

Willowtail Springs acknowledges its facilities and functions operate on sacred Indigenous lands. Geographically remote and breathtakingly beautiful, this land has a long history of environmental, racial, and sovereignty disputes. Ancestral Puebloans and their descendants have inhabited the Mesa Verde region for at least 10,000 years. Their peaceful way of life was changed forever in the late 18th century when Spanish explorers from Santa Fe blazed a westward trail near the present-day site of Willowtail Springs. The trail later became a vital section of the Old Spanish Trail.

Conservative, traditional values of the dominant Anglo culture have often resulted in friction with Native nations throughout the region. Willowtail Springs serves as a sanctuary for creatives, regardless of their cultural backgrounds, and strives to collaborate with artistic members of these communities to build on the diversity that makes the Four Corners extraordinary. To shape their programs and direction, the non-profit values the insights and guidance of several Indigenous advisors, including Michael Thompson (Muscogee), Tina Deschenie (Diné), and Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk (Ute Mountain Ute).

Artist residencies are the cornerstone of Willowtail’s programming, nurturing endless opportunities for practitioners in the arts, education, and ecology. Residents immerse themselves in this magical setting that inspires curiosity, intense personal learning, restoration, and infinite creative expression. Concentrating on the awe experienced in a safe, protected space with time to create is a powerful combination. The impact on an individual and their ability to exercise and stretch is healing. Doing so in a place that has been lovingly nurtured and stewarded with so much creative energy is an immense gift. Fostering cross-cultural, cross-generational communication through artistic expression is one step toward attending to the myriad wounds of marginalized communities. This simple practice can encourage healthier lifestyles across cultures and generations.

Recent residents Delbert Anderson (Diné, jazz trumpet player) and Blossom Johnson (Diné, playwright) have achieved national recognition in their fields. Both artists were awarded Cultural Capital Fellowships from the First Peoples Fund within the last two years. Last year’s programs and residencies also featured meditative and botanical painting, fiction and non-fiction writing, poetry, sculpture, music, and playwriting. All residents are required to host a public exhibit, lecture, workshop, demonstration, concert, or reading from the work developed in these residencies. Current venue partners include the Turquoise Raven Gallery and Cortez Cultural Center in Cortez, Mancos Public Library, Fenceline Cider in Mancos, and Create Art and Tea in Durango. During the summer of 2023, the Southwest Youth Conservation Corps spent two weeks beautifying the property and creating new walking paths through the ancient woods.

In 2024, Willowtail will offer 30 weeks of residencies, many one-day classes and workshops, and an immersive weekend workshop series using artistic expression as a path to celebration and healing. Residencies and immersive workshops include lodging accommodations and working studio access, while multi-day workshops incorporate Tai Chi sessions with Master Lee. Beginning in May, Willowtail will offer tours of the extensive Willowtail Gardens, including the new sculpture garden. Outdoor educational programs for underserved area youth are also on the horizon.

Willowtail is fortunate to enjoy significant funding from loyal local, state, and national sources, enabling the Board of Directors to plan for Willowtail’s future with great intention. With a $100,000 infrastructure grant received in January 2024 from Community Shares of Colorado and the Department of Local Affairs, Willowtail’s future is brighter than ever.

For more information on residencies, events, programs, and cabin rentals at Willowtail Springs Nature Preserve and Education Center, please visit

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