Land trust buys scenic mining claim, trailhead |

Land trust buys scenic mining claim, trailhead

Jeremy Heiman

A mining claim holding the trailhead and parking lot at the south end of the West Maroon Pass Trail has been purchased by the Wilderness Land Trust.

Known as the East Fork Trailhead, it’s the place where a Crested Butte taxi, the one with a cooler full of cold beer, picks up tired hikers from Aspen at 5 p.m. Saturday afternoons. The trailhead was thought to be on property owned by the U.S. Forest Service until the claim was put on the market last year by its owner.

The trailhead and parking area are located in Schofield Park, a basin in the upper reaches of the Crystal River Valley, in Gunnison County. The purchase of the 70-acre mining claim, called the Out West Placer, preserves access to an important portal to the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.

Dan Matthews, wilderness manager for the Aspen and Sopris Ranger districts of the White River National Forest, said the West Maroon Pass Trail is perhaps the third or fourth busiest trail in the Sopris Ranger District on an annual basis. But from mid-July to the end of August, it’s easily the busiest trail in the district.

Jon Mulford, director of the Wilderness Land Trust, said he heard about the property from a Crested Butte real estate agent, who told him it was on the market.

“I went up there and found stakes and determined the parking lot was on the property,” he said. He brought this information to the attention of Forest Service officials, who checked a survey and conceded that he was correct.

The Forest Service hopes to buy the property, but a long bureaucratic process must be followed for that to take place.

Though the West Maroon Pass Trail is heavily used, the trailhead provides access to lesser-used areas, too, Matthews said.

“There’s some really great solitude values back there,” he said.

The trail is known for its display of summer wildflowers and exceptional views, he said, and hawks, eagles and falcons are often seen in the area.

Mulford said the trailhead purchase is an early step in a larger land conservation effort. Other privately owned parcels in the area between Gothic and Marble, now called the High Elk Conservation Corridor, are targeted for preservation.

Groups working with the Wilderness Land Trust include the Trust for Public Land, Crested Butte Land Trust, Crested Butte Mountain Resort, the town of Crested Butte, Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory and Aspen Valley Land Trust. With its mining relics, the corridor is one of the most scenic historic sites in the state.

The Wilderness Land Trust purchases private lands in Congressionally-designated wilderness areas and passes them on to public agencies. Located in Carbondale for a time in the mid-1990s, the trust moved to its present location in Oregon in August 1998.

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