Donations still needed for Marble Basecamp purchase |

Donations still needed for Marble Basecamp purchase

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Go to, or call the Land Trust at 970-963-8440, to make a donation.

To say that Willard Clapper was a beloved Aspen local is a mighty understatement.

Clapper grew up in the bygone Aspen of the 1950s and ’60s, crawling through abandoned old mines and swimming in the Roaring Fork River. He later taught the town’s children at Aspen Middle School for nearly 30 years and volunteered as a firefighter for 35 years.

When cancer claimed his life at 63 a little more than a year ago, hundreds packed the Aspen Fire Department to pay their respects.

Now, one of the things Clapper held most dear is in danger, and his widow wants the community to step up with him in mind to save it.

“My feeling was I wanted to honor him with something special,” said Anne Austin-Clapper. “I’m hoping people who knew him … will contribute in his name.”

The cause is the Outdoor Education Program at the Aspen School District, and, more specifically, the pivotal eighth-grade trip that ends at the Marble Basecamp, located in Gunnison County about 2 miles from the town of Marble.

The school district has used the 47-acre property for nearly 50 years, but it is now for sale, and the Aspen Valley Land Trust has just a couple more weeks to raise the $550,000 asking price or it goes back out on the open market, said Martha Cochran, Aspen Valley Land Trust executive director. The deadline is Dec. 15.

“We’re very optimistic,” Cochran said. “We feel like the community will continue to help.”

While the group has received commitments for about $273,000 of that price, only about $73,000 actually is in hand so far, she said. And the clock is ticking.

With that in mind, Austin-Clapper has pledged to match donations in her late husband’s name up to $10,000. Clapper helped set up the district’s outdoor program and lead many trips, including the eighth-grade excursion that includes a 24-hour solo experience, she said.

“He absolutely loved it,” Austin-Clapper said. “Every kid had incredible potential for Willard.”

Brian Hightower taught at Aspen Middle School for 12 years until retiring last summer. He led the eighth-grade trip about 15 times, and said the idea is to take a child already experiencing a mentally, physically and socially pivotal time in life and drop him or her into an uncomfortable environment.

“You put ’em through a test,” Hightower said.

He called the experience “transformative,” and said it builds confidence, camaraderie and love for the outdoors.

“Put it this way,” Hightower said. “I taught there for a long time. It’s the singular most important thing the school does. Without the Basecamp, I don’t think it would exist.”

Marble Basecamp — located at about 9,000 feet between the Raggeds Wilderness and the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness — is perfectly situated to host the last few days of the eighth-grade trip, he said. That’s because it’s accessible from the Maroon Bells outside Aspen all the way downvalley to the Avalanche Creek area near Carbondale.

“It’s a magical place, and there’s a lot of history there,” Hightower said. “Without Basecamp, … it just becomes a backpacking trip, and that’s not what it is.”

Hightower also knew Clapper, and was on the trail with him a few years ago for his last eighth-grade trip.

“He was the spritual leader of the school for a long time,” Hightower said. “That was where he shined.

“He always had a ski pole to lean on and a smile on his face.”

If the land trust is able to buy the property, the plan is to make it accessible to public schools in Pitkin, Garfield, Gunnison and Eagle counties, as well as other nonprofits and organizations.

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