Spud cellar won’t block highway plan
ASPEN State historical officials mashed an Aspen group’s effort to use an old potato cellar to block the straight-shot highway entrance into town.The State Historic Preservation Office ruled recently that a potato cellar on the Marolt open space on Aspen’s west edge isn’t historically significant, compliance coordinator Amy Pallante said Wednesday. Amy Guthrie, Aspen’s historical preservation officer, agreed, according to Pallante.The Colorado Department of Transportation performed an assessment on the potato cellar earlier this year and forwarded its conclusion to the city of Aspen and the state for review.”We both concurred with the conclusion of CDOT that the potato cellar was not eligible for the National Register [of Historic Places],” Pallante said.The cellar was overlooked in the 1990s, when CDOT performed environmental impact studies on the Entrance to Aspen project. A group called Friends of Marolt Park Open Space brought the cellar to the attention of CDOT and the State Historic Preservation Office last year during a re-evaluation of the entrance project.The cellar was “probably” built in the 1940s when the Marolt family was farming the land, the assessment concluded. It may be older: The Marolts acquired the ranch in 1927.The cellar was forgotten for years, and vegetation obscured it. Heavy snow made it more visible at the start of this winter.Ed Zasacky, a member of the Friends of Marolt board of directors and a vehement foe of the straight-shot highway alignment, said he believes the potato cellar is historically significant because it is “part of the story of Aspen.” It’s a relic that shows the importance of ranching and farming in an earlier era, when spuds were king between Aspen and Glenwood Springs.The Friends of Marolt claim that construction of a four-lane highway across the Marolt-Thomas property will potentially damage or destroy the cellar. The highway will go into a tunnel beneath a portion of the site.They hoped the state historical office would rule that the structure qualified for the National Register so that CDOT would be required to alter the project or mitigate its effects on the cellar if the straight shot is built. “I’m disappointed in the decision,” Zasacky said. “It will point out CDOT is glossing over a lot of things, and the city, too.”He said it is ironic that the city felt the 46-year-old Hearthstone House deserved historical designation while it dismissed the value of the older potato cellar.The earth-and-wood-beam, 60-square-foot cellar is falling apart, which was a strike against it in the state review. And even though the cellar is adjacent to a mining and ranching museum, the fact that it is no longer part of a ranch counted against it, according to CDOT’s assessment.”Due to its lack of physical integrity, it no longer embodies a distinctive architectural method of construction to meet National Register criteria,” CDOT’s review said. “It does not retain historic integrity because it is no longer located in a ranch or farm setting. The Marolt Ranch potato cellar has lost integrity of setting, feeling and association to the ranching and potato farming era.”Zasacky questioned the integrity of the review process. CDOT representatives undertook the primary review. The state historical office reviewed that work, he believes, without visiting the site. He also charged that city officials have a bias in favor of the straight-shot alignment.CDOT and the city “will ignore anything to go through there,” he said.Guthrie was not available for comment on her assessment of the potato cellar.Zasacky said the issue isn’t necessarily baked yet. The city of Aspen needs voter approval to use the open space for a highway entrance. Foes would point out the historical significance of the property, which includes several ranching and mining-era buildings and foundations, he said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com.
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