As Marble’s popularity surges, 55 acres of open space preserved on southern edge
11th hour effort in December salvaged gift from generous family
While Marble residents continue to grapple with how to handle overwhelming numbers of off-highway vehicles buzzing around town in summer months, residents can rest assured there will be tranquility year-round on their southern border.
Several individuals and organizations worked together to preserve 55 acres of wetlands just outside of town. The effort prevents potential development of at least one home and preserves nonmotorized public access along a popular summer and winter route, said John Armstrong, president of the 50-year-old nonprofit Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association.
“Thing have really popped in Marble as far as conservation and public lands,” Armstrong said, referring to the wetlands preservation and a separate acquisition of other open space nearby that will get turned over to the U.S. Forest Service.
The wetlands that were acquired are on the south side of the Crystal River, from about the confluence of the river and Carbonate Creek on the western edge to the Beaver Lake area on the eastern edge. The wetlands are covered with willows and perpetually swampy because of beaver dams. It includes a stretch of ground where large, angular marble blocks from the nearby quarry were stood up in eye-catching ways decades ago. Local residents call the area MarbleHenge.
Marble resident Alex Menard walks the property a couple of times per week, year-round. He has seen beaver, bear, deer, elk and a moose at different times. In the spring the area is thick with birds and butterflies. The wetlands are an unofficial wildlife sanctuary flanked on both ends by land held by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
“It’s a significant piece of open space,” Menard said. “It’s easy for everybody to see.”
And now it’s a view that Marble residents and visitors can bank on. “It really means everything south of the town of Marble is protected,” Menard said.
Armstrong credited Menard with getting the ball rolling for the acquisition. Menard learned that the family who owned the property had to dispose of it and preferred going the conservation route. For a while it appeared Aspen Valley Land Trust would take ownership of the land, but the board of directors was wary of the presence of an old smelter site leftover from a much earlier mining era. The board wanted to protect the land trust from liability for a cleanup, according to Armstrong.
CVEPA contacted the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to find out how much cleanup of the old smelter site would be required. To oversimplify a complicated process, the state agency issued a “favorable” initial report on the extent of the cleanup.
Meanwhile, the clock was ticking. The family needed to complete the land donation or a sale to a private party by the end of 2021, so CVEPA frantically searched for another partner as the year dwindled. They contacted the Trust for Land Restoration, a Ridgway-based nonprofit that specializes in cleaning up abandoned mine sites and getting property into public hands.
The state’s assessment of the extent of the required cleanup effort made Trust for Land Restoration comfortable with proceeding with taking the land donation. It stepped in to take ownership after AVLT bowed out.
“With only two business hours left in 2021 the deed for donation of the 55 acres was recorded, protecting the land from development,” CVEPA’s newsletter says.
The family who made the generous donation wasn’t identified by CVEPA.
The land trust plans to remediate the old smelter site this year and then turn over the wetlands to another entity, Armstrong said.
The 55 acres are dominated by the wetlands and a steep hillside, so development potential was limited if the property fell into private hands. Nevertheless, at least one home site could have been squeezed out of it, Armstrong said. More importantly, the public could have been forever barred.
Instead, what people see is what they get. The property already serves as a “living lab” for students at the Marble Charter School, Armstrong said. It is a popular destination for folks wanting a scenic but easy stroll on mostly flat land.
CVEPA supports maintaining a passive approach on the property, not advertising it or creating a fancy trail. It will remain an unpolished gem.
“It’s within walking distance from most everything in Marble,” Armstrong said. “I think it’s tremendous for Marble.”
With a lot of hard work, that Marble saga had a happy ending, but other issues loom. The debate over whether to limit parking for off-highway vehicle trailers in town will intensify this spring, and a special committee will recommend whether vehicles should be limited on the Lead King Loop, a popular, rugged route that goes by the scenic Crystal Mill.
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