Marble going through growing pains
MARBLE — One of the region’s hidden gems has been discovered.
Nestled at the foot of the West Elks near headwaters of the Crystal River, Marble is home to fewer than 200 full-time residents willing to accept harsh winters, long commutes and lack of cell service in exchange for some beauty and peace and quiet.
In the summer, however, they share their little corner of Gunnison County with flocks of tourists from near and far.
For some locals, it’s a welcome economic boost.
“The term downtown really means something now,” said Alex Menard, who runs the Marble Hub — a coffee shop, community center and de facto visitor center at the corner of First and Main streets.
Across the street, Slow Groovin’ BBQ does a steady business with out-of-towners and locals alike.
“For the most part, I think the town really appreciates it being here,” said head chef Nial O’Connor. Although the catering trade of Slow Groovin’ continues to grow, most of the business still comes through the seasonal restaurant. After five seasons of operation, O’Connor has become a permanent resident and plans to brave his first winter in town.
Others are less keen.
Steve and Alison Finn live just down the road from Beaver Lake, where parking and bathrooms have become a problem.
“The infrastructure cannot support what is coming in,” Alison said. “All we’re asking for is respect from the people coming here.”
The Finns and other locals describe all-terrain vehicles speeding by on county roads, cars and trailers parked without regard for regulations and visitors squatting in front yards rather than brave a single overtaxed latrine.
Steve is the first to admit that the behavior is far from universal.
“The vast majority are responsible. It’s probably 30 percent who check their brains at 133,” he said.
Even so, even well-behaved crowds mean less solitude in town and along previously pristine roads and trails.
“If you’re bumper to bumper sucking dust the whole way, how can that be fun?” Alison asked.
So, when Town Council met with the Colorado Scenic and Historic Byways Commission to discuss a more formal role for the town in the West Elk Loop, some residents were alarmed.
Dozens of them wrote letters, most of them opposed to the move.
“We are a very small town, and we have been crushed by the number of tourists that we already have coming in each summer,” one person wrote. “We have neither the facilities nor the parking spaces to accommodate those folks as it is, and to encourage more is truly not feasible.”
“Each summer the onslaught of four-wheelers and ‘ATVers’ that blast through our community grows exponentially, transforming Marble from a quiet residential area to a fume-choked speedway for thrill-seeking recreationalists,” observed another.
That pretty much put an end to the plan, according to John Hoffman, chairman of the Scenic and Historic Byway steering committee.
“Since then, we’ve done some outreach and found out that there’s a lot of people in the area who really thought that was detrimental to the cause,” he said. “Maybe in a couple years, if we get the infrastructure right, they’ll feel like they want to be a part of the byway.”
Vince Savage, president of the Marble Tourism Association, views the infrastructure debate as a diversion.
“I think that the people who are against anyone discovering Marble are people who don’t want to be discovered,” he said.
For his part, Savage thinks the natural limits of topography and public lands will help keep the town small.
Meanwhile, the Town Council is taking steps to mitigate the impacts of tourism.
According to councilman and Beaver Lake Lodge member Larry Good, the town has already invested in signage and is working on hiring its first code enforcement officer.
“We’re trying to educate the public to respect the town and the people in it,” he said. “Then all the locals will respect them, too.”
Despite being a business owner himself, Good wouldn’t mind seeing the growth taper off.
“I’m in Marble for what Marble is,” he said. “Any kind of growth at this point is really overkill for us.”
“We’re trying to keep up with the growth and the change as more people discover Marble,” he added. “As we move ahead, it’s all part of the puzzle to protect our resources and protect the rights of the residents as we present our town in a sort of messily vital way.”
That tone of resignation isn’t an uncommon one.
“I never expected it to boom. I must have been naive,” said resident and sculptor Greg Tonozzi. “It’s already a shame to see all the traffic on this road. At the same time, I don’t own it. It’s so beautiful up here, everyone should be able to see it.”
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