Grant awarded for Marble Basecamp | AspenTimes.com

Grant awarded for Marble Basecamp

The final piece of the puzzle that will allow the Aspen Valley Land Trust to buy the Marble Basecamp fell into place Thursday afternoon.

"It came through," said Martha Cochran, the trust's director. "It's for sure a go."

That final piece was a $273,400 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado, a state-administered fund that invests lottery proceeds to protect state parks, trails, wildlife, rivers and open spaces. Cochran said she didn't know for sure if it would come through until Thursday afternoon.

"GOCO grants are very competitive," she said.

However, Aspen Valley Land Trust officials were hopeful it would be awarded to the Marble Basecamp project because Great Outdoors Colorado officials visited the site near Marble in September, when the Aspen School District's pivotal eighth-grade trip was in full swing, Cochran said.

"They were just blown away," she said.

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The Marble Basecamp has been used for nearly 50 years as the centerpiece of the district's Outdoor Education Program and, specifically, the eighth-grade trip. That excursion features a backpacking trip, a solo experience and ends at Basecamp, where the students spend a few days bonding and doing team-building exercises.

Basecamp — located at about 9,000 feet between the Raggeds Wilderness and the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness — is accessible from the Maroon Bells outside Aspen all the way downvalley to the Avalanche Creek area near Carbondale.

Landowners allowed the district to use the facility over the decades. However, the property went up for sale last year, though the owners took it off the market so the land trust could raise the $550,000 to buy it. The deadline was Dec. 31, when it would have been put back on the open market.

"The response has been overwhelming," Cochran said. "Donations were coming in every day, all the time."

The power of social media helped get the word out, and donations came pouring in from across the country from people who were reminded of how significant the eighth-grade trip was to them, she said.

"A lot of parents said, 'What if we didn't do anything and it went away?'" Cochran said. "'What would we say to our kids?'"

Many people also donated in memory of Willard Clapper, a longtime Aspen Middle School teacher who was heavily involved in the Outdoor Education Program, she said. Numerous other people and groups also donated.

The property will be available for use for any area school, though trust officials need to study the site and determine how much activity it can handle, Cochran said.

jauslander@aspentimes.com