Gary Hubbell: Marble residents can’t seem to agree on anything
February 4, 2004
Marble is a cool place to live. It’s like Aspen was 40 years ago, when it was just starting to wake up and realize that it had world-class potential.
The upper Crystal River Valley and the upper Roaring Fork Valley are very similar geographically. The towns of Marble and Aspen are both situated at 7,900 feet in elevation. They both have a river running through town at about the same flow rate. Both towns are surrounded by towering mountains, and in fact share some of the same peaks ” we’re only about 20 miles apart as the crow flies.
There are two main differences: ski areas and people. Whereas Marble has only a small nordic ski area that hosts a few dozen people on a busy day, Aspen has, well, Aspen. And where Marble has only 100-or-so full-time residents and perhaps 250 people on a busy summer day, greater Aspen has more than 10,000 full-time residents and about 60,000 people on a busy winter day. Everyone in Marble agrees they don’t want to become the next Aspen, but there are thousands of platted lots in town and the trophy homes are marching up the hillside above Beaver Lake.
Marble has a lot to offer. It shares the same Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness Area as Aspen, except not nearly as many people. There’s a small airstrip to land a private plane, a stable where you can book a great horseback ride, a marble quarry with an incredible history, a winter ice rink, a beautiful lake that the state regularly stocks with trout, a clean and clear river, the nordic ski area, great elk and deer hunting, lovely hiking and biking trails, a wonderful school, a huge town park on the river, a fascinating marble sculptors’ symposium, and quite a few talented, interesting citizens. It’s the kind of place where no one looks twice when you tie your horse to a tree in the middle of town.
So why all the bickering?
There are basically three groups of people in Marble ” those who are trying to make a living in town, those who are already retired or who make their living elsewhere, and those who have dropped out of society and are hiding from the law, dealing drugs, or collecting welfare.
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Everybody realizes that Marble lacks several important amenities. It’s 30 miles to the closest grocery store and gas station, if you don’t count Redstone, where the prices are like Aspen’s. There is no town sewer system and therefore no public bathroom in town for the thousands of tourists that visit every year. There is only one store, which is open only sometimes and has only a few items. The streets are not paved, and the dust in the summer chokes the residents. There is no fund-raising mechanism for the town, which relies on Gunnison County to maintain the road through town.
There is no community center except for the school, which is owned by the Marble Historical Society and leased by the Marble Charter School, which itself is in dire financial straits. Both groups are currently fighting for possession of the school building, with the school board demanding that the historical society give it away because the historical society doesn’t have the funds to pay for year-round maintenance on the building ” which it uses only in the summer. The historical society insists that the school does not have a valid lease, and has challenged the right of the school to offer the use of the building to community groups, because there is no insurance coverage for outside groups. The issues have been sent to the lawyers.
The owner of the Yule marble quarry has proposed that the town consider a project to house a twin to the block of marble that will replace the cracked block at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Washington, D.C. He has offered to raise private funding to build a 6,000-square-foot community center at the site of the quarry’s old mill site, including a museum, interpretive center, public restrooms, gift shop, refrigerated ice rink, and a source of sales taxes to pave the dusty road ” at no cost to the town. Currently the 25-acre park is a hazardous former industrial site with eroding columns of stacked marble, sawpits, rusting machinery, cables and rotting beams.
The proposal was met with howls of protest. The opponents personally attacked the supporters with a series of slanderous, anonymously authored posters tacked up around town. Then, without posting the issue on its monthly agenda, the Marble Town Council summarily dismissed any suggestion of developing the Tomb of the Unknowns project at the Millsite Park. This strikes me as a blatant violation of the Sunshine Law.
The church might seem a safe haven. It was moved from Aspen to Marble around 1910 and was designated a historic site. In danger of crumbling to the ground because of a poor foundation, one of the elders of the church started a fund-raising drive to renovate it. Before doing so, he asked the congregation what they wanted. “A fellowship hall, which will only be used for church business,” he was told. So he raised $250,000, with the first $50,000 coming from his own pocket.
Then, after the fellowship hall was built and the foundation installed, the other board members changed their mind. “We want to use the fellowship hall for a community center,” they said. When the fund-raiser questioned their original intent ” “only for church business” ” he was kicked off the church board by the pastor in front of the congregation. Love thy neighbor.
Then there’s the Marble Tourism Association, of which I am a member. Gunnison County passed a law that levies a 4 percent tax on all lodging establishments in the county. Previously all the receipts had gone to help market Gunnison and Crested Butte. When Marble lodge owners lobbied Gunnison County commissioners to use their tax receipts to market Marble as a tourism destination, the head of the Crystal River Caucus ” a self-appointed citizens’ group with no legal authority ” called the Gunnison County CEO to protest, saying the caucus didn’t trust the Marble Tourism Association to spend the money wisely.
Sheesh. It just goes on and on. The issues are fairly simple. Those who use Marble as a bedroom speed through town on their 75-minute commute to Aspen to make their living, happy as long as they can stop by the grocery store on the way home and have the town as their quiet little refuge. The retirees go to the mailbox and collect their checks from Chicago and make a full-time job out of fighting anyone who wants to keep the gate open behind them. The dropouts nervously hope that Gunnison County won’t send deputies or building inspectors to inspect their nonexistent septic systems and the cobbled-together travel trailers in which they live. The few surviving businesses in town hang on by their fingernails, trying to make all the money they can in a four-month season while their neighbors scream at them for trying to build a year-round business.
Meanwhile, the dreaded tourists come anyway. The ATV riders, four-wheelers, snowmobilers, backcountry skiers, mountain bikers, backpackers, sightseers, photographers and hunters convoy through town past piles of rusting junk, not spending a dime, leaving nothing but a cloud of dust behind.
Gary Hubbell lives in Marble, where he and his wife, Doris, operate OutWest Guides. They offer summer horseback rides, fly-fishing trips and autumn big-game hunts.