Aspen Valley Land Trust closes on former Outward Bound land near Marble

The land is slated for use similar to Chapin Wright, outdoor education for kids

Aspen Valley Land Trust plans on the expansion of its youth-centered outdoor education offerings with the purchase of a 42-acre parcel near Marble.
Aspen Valley Land Trust/Courtesy photo

Aspen Valley Land Trust closed on a 42-acre parcel of land east of Marble on Tuesday, setting AVLT on the path to double their land holdings for outdoor education targeted to local kids. 

“The land has been used historically to foster the next generation of land stewards and just really get kids excited about the outdoors and our natural resources surrounding us,” said Erin Quinn, AVLT’s conservation director. “AVLT is buying (the land) to continue that history.”

Since 1962, Colorado Outward Bound School owned and ran the site, known as Marble Base Camp, as a site for youth outdoor education and leadership programs. It was the first Outward Bound base camp in the United States. Programming there stopped in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a press release

AVLT purchased the campus for $1.85 million. Along with the 42 acres, the site comes with about 10 structures, including cabins, classroom spaces, and a lodge with a kitchen. 

Land trusts usually do not purchase land but instead help secure land protections — usually through conservation easements. They connect landowners with potential grants to fund the conservation easement purchase; they do not fund the easements themselves. 

“The state of Colorado has a pretty robust financial incentive program for landowners that donate conservation easements,” Quinn explained. “So we’re sort of a tool to allow landowners access to those funds.”

AVLT has had a hand in the conservation of more than 46,000 acres in Western Colorado according to their website. 

But the acquisition of the former Outward Bound Marble Base Camp is not a normal AVLT operation. It’s not their first land purchase, but it is still outside of their normal activity.

“The only similar acquisition that we’ve done is the one that’s directly next door: the Chapin Wright Marble Base Camp. The sort of bread and butter of land trusts in general, including AVLT, is acquiring conservation easements,” Quinn said. “Purchasing land is already in and of itself a little bit unique, which we’re not foreign to, but it’s not the norm.”

The land is directly adjacent to AVLT’s 47-acre Chapin Wright Marble Basecamp, which offers outdoor learning spaces for local youth and their teachers. She sees the Base Camp as a way to expand AVLT’s outdoor opportunities to more kids.

“It’s been really highlighted and very obvious that (Chapin Wright) is a bit too steep of an entry for some of the youth in the region who aren’t familiar with camping or don’t have the right equipment or resources,” she said. “So the whole reason for this was to just lower that entry point for kids to get outside because there’s cabins, and there’s a kitchen, and (schools or teachers) can bring the whole class.”

And while the history of the property is steeped in youth-centered outdoor activities, the cost was a barrier to many. Quinn said AVLT’s goal is to expand accessibility to all kids, regardless of economic status.

“We’re planning to work with partners to offer a much more affordable (access), or a stipend, or even free programming opportunity for the region’s educators,” she said.

AVLT estimates that the full project cost will land around $3.5 million, and she said they have raised about half of that. But with the land purchased, they hit a significant milestone.

Funding for the purchase price came from AVLT’s own coffers, plus private and municipal donors. 

Although the site is located in Gunnison County, Pitkin County contributed $500,000 — the donated specifically toward the conservation easement. Non-profit Great Outdoors Colorado contributed $1 million, and the City of Aspen contributed $200,000. An anonymous donor pledged to match community donations up to $250,000, and many other private funders and foundations have donated. 

Communication & Engagement Director Carly Bollinger said AVLT is in talks with many more potential funders. And AVLT plans to approach Gunnison County soon for funding. 

The project funds will go toward updating the infrastructure in the existing structures on the land and funding future programming. 

Whatever future programming might look like, it will be targeted to kids, include programming for local schools and large groups, and aim to educate youth about the value of the outdoors. But the exact details of that programming will be decided with stakeholders.

“We do have some ideas of what we can offer, but we are really going to lean into what we hear from potential partners as to where that magic spot is,” Quinn said. 

She said with the land-purchasing phase of the project complete, the next stages are working with partners to determine programming and securing the additional funding. By 2025, Quinn expects, AVLT will welcome kids on the property.