Campbell secures $1 million to aid High Elk preservation plan
Aspen Times Staff Writer
A national land trust organization is making strides to save a swath of land between Marble and the ghost town of Gothic thanks to one of Colorado’s senators.
U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell succeeded in securing $1 million in federal funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to protect the High Elk Corridor, as the land is known, in November. The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit, is working to buy and preserve the corridor that passes through many mining claims and housing sites.
According to a statement from the Trust for Public Land, the $1 million will allow 700 acres to be conveyed to the U.S. Forest Service next summer.
The deal also involves Friends of High Elk, a group comprised of land trusts from the Roaring Fork Valley and from Crested Butte.
The group estimates that $6.5 million will be needed in public and private monies to buy the land, and the Water and Land Conservation Fund was intended to be a major source of the public funding.
“This wise investment only enhances our efforts to protect 2,000 critical acres of spectacular Colorado landscape,” said Doug Robotham, Colorado director of the Trust for Public Land.
The High Elk Corridor, as the area is known, is what hikers partially walk through on the hike over West Maroon Pass from Aspen to Crested Butte. A summer-only jeep road from Crested Butte that links the historic mining towns of Gothic and Schofield with Crystal and Marble runs through the land, also known as Schofield Pass.
Although there are approximately 6,000 acres of privately owned land in the corridor, the Friends of High Elk are first primarily interested in buying or obtaining conservation easements on 2,000 acres, of which there are about 15 various landowners.
Those 2,000 acres were chosen because they were first identified as parcels of high developmental risk and high ecological sensitivity. The group says it isn’t certain how many new cabins or summer homes in the area it would take to change the corridor’s character, but members would like to prevent that scenario from occurring in the first place.
The area is known as a subalpine valley system in ecological terms, providing opportunities for long-term biological research. The area includes the historic Crystal Mill and potential habitat for the Canadian lynx, according to the Trust for Public Land.
So far, the Friends of High Elk include groups in Aspen and Crested Butte, including the Aspen Valley Land Trust, the Crested Butte Land Trust, Pitkin and Gunnison counties, Crested Butte Mountain Resort and the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab that operates out of the ghost town of Gothic during the summer.
The Friends have so far completed three conservation transactions in the area, protecting 280 acres. Funding for the purchases included money from the Gunnison County Land Preservation Fund, the Aspen Skiing Co. Environmental Foundation and several private donors.
[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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