Mountain pass between Marble and Gothic gets the attention of land trust
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Schofield Pass, a swath of land between Marble and the ghost town of Gothic, is ripe for preservation, according to a national land trust organization interested in raising $6.5 million to save it from development.
The pass, also known as the High Elk Corridor, is what hikers partially walk through on the hike over West Maroon Pass from Aspen toward Crested Butte. The land is a summer-only Jeep road from Crested Butte that links the historic mining towns of Gothic and Schofield with Crystal and Marble.
The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit, is garnering help from several local land trusts and interested groups to buy and preserve the corridor. The land passes through many mining claims and platted housing sites, including straight through the old town site of Schofield. Together, the group calls itself Friends of High Elk.
Since the sites and claims are privately owned in between the Maroon Bells-Snowmass and the Raggeds wilderness areas, it would take a large sum of money to buy the land – the group estimates $6.5 million in public and private funds. And because there are hundreds of landowners in the corridor, it will take a tremendous effort to contact each person involved.
Project manager Charlie O’Leary said the goal is to preserve the character of the land, and so far they have had success buying 150 acres and have the right of first refusal to many other parcels of land.
“People are generally excited to know that people are trying to preserve that area,” he said of contacting the landowners. “They acquired land there because they love that area.”
Although there are approximately 6,000 acres of privately owned land in the corridor, the Friends of High Elk are primarily interested in buying or obtaining conservation easements on 2,000 acres, of which there are around 15 various landowners.
Those 2,000 acres were chosen because they were identified as parcels of high developmental risk and high ecological sensitivity. The group says it doesn’t know how many cabins or summer homes built in the area would change the corridor’s character, but they’d like to prevent that scenario from occurring in the first place.
The project is still in its early stages, and the Friends of High Elk hope to get the word out about the importance of the corridor.
The Trust for Public Land is a San Francisco-based nonprofit with 40 offices nationwide, including one in Denver. The organization, almost 30 years old, is known as the most successful land trust agency in the United States. The nonprofit’s mission is “land for people,” from pristine wilderness parcels to community gardens in inner cities.
So far, the Friends of High Elk include groups in Aspen and Crested Butte, such as the Aspen Valley Land Trust, the Crested Butte Land Trust, Pitkin and Gunnison counties, Crested Butte Mountain Resort and the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab (RMBL) that operates out of the ghost town of Gothic during the summer.
Representatives for most of the groups gathered Monday night to hear a presentation from the Trust for Public Land, and a description from Dr. John Harte of RMBL about the research into topics like biodiversity and global warming that the lab has achieved using the corridor as an untouched research site.
“Many people who walk in that area don’t realize that most of that land is private,” said Will Rogers, president of the Trust for Public Land.
He said the group hopes that $3.5 million in public funds will be available from the Federal Water and Land Conservation Fund within the next few years. Of $3 million in private monies the groups hopes to raise, $500,000 is already secured, he said.
[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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