The little group that helped defeat the Marble Ski Area celebrates its 50th anniversary
The Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association continues to help protect the special place
A ragtag citizens’ group was started in 1972 with an ambitious goal of preventing development of the Marble Ski Area and related real estate scheme.
It overcame the long odds of taking on well-heeled developers and state and federal bureaucracies skewed toward business interests over environmental concerns.
The ski area developers went bankrupt two years later, but the citizens’ group — the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association — lived to fight another day, and another and another. Members are celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and most likely will throw a party at its annual gathering in August. (As with any good volunteer group, details are a work in progress.)
CVEPA, as the organization is known, continues to battle against environmental degradation and promotes protections such as wild and scenic designation for the upper Crystal River. It was a key opponent of two proposed reservoirs on the Crystal River. But the ski area battle is the stuff that legends are made of.
“The defeat of the Marble Ski Area certainly is the biggest feather in the cap of CVEPA,” said John Armstrong, the current president of the board of directors.
The ski area plan coalesced during the 1960s and early ‘70s as developers accumulated hundreds of acres of private land. In 1971, the owners applied to lease national forestlands to make the ski proposal work. The plan included 12 chairlifts, two gondolas and mixture of residences, hotels, shops and restaurants, according to “Protecting a Valley and Saving a River,” a book on CVEPA’s history by F. Darrell Munsell. Only one chairlift was built and it operated for one season. The remains of the chairlift can still be spotted.
The proposal concerned many of the residents of the Crystal Valley. Three of them — Esther Fogle Neal, Lloyd Blue and J.E. DeVilbiss — decided while drinking coffee around a kitchen table that something had to be done to prevent the development or at least lessen its environmental impact, according to an article by Patricia Neal Gray in Crystal Clear, CVEPA’s newsletter. They formed the association and were joined by numerous other people who would later play critical, volunteer roles in voicing concerns and keeping the governmental review process honest. Bill Jochems, an attorney who moved to Redstone in 1971, was among the initial CVEPA members. He told The Aspen Times Thursday that he was motivated to try to save the natural qualities that attracted him to the Crystal River Valley.
The Marble Ski Area and associated village would have filled the upper Crystal Valley with more development than the initial stage of Snowmass filled the Brush Creek Valley, Jochems said. “It would have been huge.”
Critics smelled a rat right off the bat. The land the developer accumulated was on the north side of Marble — with the south-facing slopes getting sun baked.
“There was a tremendous flaw to this whole thing,” Jochems said. “Everybody was saying it will never make it as a ski area.”
Alex Menard, museum operator for the Marble Historical Society, framed it this way: “It was kind of like having the skiing on Smuggler (Mountain) rather than Ajax.”
The ski area development ran into a multitude of problem, as Munsell details in “Protecting a Valley and Saving a River.” There were geologic hazards that rendered some of the home lots unsalable. There were questions about adequate water and sewer service. The Forest Service initially agreed to lease 624 acres for the operation but ultimately decided the ski area wouldn’t pan out and would have too high of environmental cost on surrounding lands. Throughout the review process, CVEPA representatives raised their concerns and used limited powers to object to the plan. At the very least, they put officials with Gunnison County, the state of Colorado the U.S. Forest Service on notice that someone was watching their review very carefully.
DeVilbiss, who later became a colorful Pitkin County district judge and later still an Aspen councilman, came up with the idea of re-incorporating Marble in 1973, even though it only had 31 voting residents. That was a key maneuver in the fight over water and sewer service, among other things.
Ultimately, the development scheme was sunk by allegations of illegal land sales. The Colorado Real Estate Commission investigated claims of illegal land sales of 75 lots by the ski area ownership. The Marble Ski Area surrendered its real estate license in July 1974, according to Munsell. Owners tried to reorganize but a bankruptcy court judge rejected their plan.
Michael Kinsley was an activist working in Pitkin County at the time and assisted CVEPA in opposition to the ski area, which was located in Gunnison County.
“(CVEPA) put a lot of work into preventing something that would have been a nightmare,” said Kinsley, who became a Pitkin County commissioner in 1975.
Current board members are proud of the nonprofit organization’s past and thrilled with its ongoing efforts to protect the unique area.
“It started off as a sole voice looking after things in the Crystal Valley,” said Dale Will, a member of CVEPA’s board of directors for about 15 years and currently a vice president.
Now, he noted, there are numerous local organizations involved in environmental protection, many with paid staff and bigger budgets than CVEPA. “Its role has become more of a supporting role than a lead role,” Will said.
Armstrong said CVEPA has about 150 members, though he feels it could easily double that number. He urged people that care about the Crystal Valley to look into CVEPA’s work and support it if they like what they see.
The organization is currently engaged in issues such as Coal Basin methane mitigation and playing a role in solutions to rampant off-road vehicle use on the Lead King Loop.
CVEPA recently played a key role in getting a conservation easement on the 55-acre Hepola wetlands property across from Beaver Lake and getting the Colorado Department of Transportation to stop dumping mudslide debris on the decommissioned Placita Rock Dump.
Will said no issue in the Crystal Valley is too large or too small for CVEPA’s attention. “It’s the eyes and ears of the valley,” he said.
For a deep dive into the fight over the Marble Ski Area, see the book “Protecting a Valley and Saving a River” by F. Darrell Munsell.
To learn more about the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association, go to http://www.cvepa.org
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