Gunnison County approval paves way for expanded education experiences at Marble Basecamp |

Gunnison County approval paves way for expanded education experiences at Marble Basecamp

Aspen Valley Land Trust hires full-time outdoor programs coordinator

Students from Carbondale Community School participated in a team-building exercise at the Aspen Valley Land Trust’s Marble Basecamp earlier this fall.
AVLT/Courtesy photo

A recent Gunnison County land-use approval will help the Aspen Valley Land Trust expand its outdoor education programs near Marble.

AVLT owns the 47-acre Chapin Wright Marble Basecamp, situated along the Lead King Loop forest route and traversed by the popular North Lost Trail northeast of Marble.

In October, the Gunnison County Planning and Zoning Commission approved a land-use change permit for AVLT to make some improvements that have been on the planning and design table for several years.

The approval formally established outdoor education as the primary use of the property and allows AVLT to make infrastructure improvements for its youth-oriented educational programs.

“Providing space for outdoor learning fosters meaningful connections to the land and one another, building both the landscape and community we all want to see,” AVLT Executive Director Suzanne Stephens said in a recent news release.

AVLT purchased the Basecamp property in 2016 and placed a conservation easement on it through the Crested Butte Land Trust. The land is situated at 9,000 feet elevation and remains undeveloped, except for a 1939 settler’s cabin.

The site was historically used by Aspen Middle School for its outdoor education program but closed in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions.

This fall, the programs expanded to include students from Carbondale Community School, Basalt Middle School and Aspen High School.

Serving as AVLT’s new full-time outdoor education coordinator is former Aspen Middle School teacher Brian Hightower.

Brian Hightower, Aspen Valley Land Trust Outdoor Education coordinator.
AVLT/Courtesy photo

In addition to overseeing Basecamp programs, Hightower is the ranch and partnership manager for AVLT at the newly acquired Coffman Ranch east of Carbondale.

This fall, Hightower began piloting programs with different partners at the Coffman Ranch. The long-term vision for the 141-acre riverfront property is to maintain it as a working ranch, while providing outdoors and agriculture science education opportunities.

Bridges High School students visit the Coffman Ranch near Carbondale.
Aspen Valley Land Trust/Courtesy photo

For now, visitors must be accompanied by land trust personnel until fundraising is complete and the ranch can be safely opened to the public. In October, though, visiting students ranged in age from 4-21, AVLT said in its release.

“These steps of formal permitting and land-use management are all part of AVLT’s plan to build educational spaces from the mountain tops to riverbanks for partner programming to connect more kids to nature,” AVLT states in the release.

Land ownership is not AVLT’s primary purpose. Rather, it has mostly worked with private landowners in the region to help them conserve their land and limit development.

“The value of private land conservation to the community isn’t always obvious, when, in truth, everyone benefits from protecting land,” Stephens said.

Waldkinder preschool students visit the Coffman Ranch near Carbondale.
Aspen Valley Land Trust/Courtesy photo

Groups interested in using Coffman Ranch this winter or Basecamp in 2022 can contact for more information.

Donations can also be made to AVLT at in support of outdoor education programming, developing partnerships with other organizations and ongoing private land conservation.

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or