Paul Andersen: A High Elk Christmas present | AspenTimes.com
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Paul Andersen: A High Elk Christmas present

Looking for that special Christmas gift? A gift that keeps on giving? If you are a hiker who loves wilderness and pristine nature, and if you want to protect a very special trail, perhaps the most popular summer hike in the Elk Mountains, your gift search is over.

Your gift will not only work to preserve the sanctity of a stunning stretch of wilderness trail; it will also be tax-deductible. Your generosity will survive you and earn the gratitude of future generations. Your largess will make you a visionary conservationist. And you don’t even have to go on e-Bay to buy it.

Last summer on an August day I watched 40 blissful hikers cross West Maroon Pass from Aspen to Crested Butte. Few of them were aware that the wild lands before them in Schofield Park are subject to development.



Five years ago, the Crested Butte Land Trust was the first to recognize the importance of buying out private in-holdings along the West Maroon Trail. Most of the parcels in this remote corner of Gunnison County have the option of roads and second homes.

Today, thousands of acres throughout the High Elk Corridor, a swath of mountains and wildflower meadows that encompasses Schofield and the West Maroon Pass trailhead, have been identified as prime opportunities for conservation. Here is where the giving starts.




About a month ago, Colorado’s congressional delegation, led by Ben Nighthorse Campbell, secured $1 million in federal funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund for protection of the High Elk Corridor.

This grant provides critical inertia for purchasing in-holdings along the trail and gives a big boost to the efforts of local land trusts in Aspen and Crested Butte. The land trusts have the support of the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, the Trust for Public Lands and a number of other entities committed to staving off development in the High Elk Corridor.

“I think anyone who travels into the High Elk Corridor assumes it’s protected,” explains David Baxter of the Crested Butte Land Trust. “I remember the sense of incongruity I felt when I learned that one of my favorite fishing holes was in the middle of a platted town site.”

Several hundred property owners control roughly a thousand century-old mining claims throughout the High Elk Corridor, totaling about 6,000 acres of private land. That doesn’t mean the West Maroon Trail could be closed, but that the experience of one of the most popular wilderness hikes in Colorado could be forever diminished.

The impacts of development would mar wild, untrammeled scenery and negatively impact the pristine natural environment, which has considerable scientific significance.

The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL), located in the old silver-mining town of Gothic, is one of the nation’s oldest independent scientific research stations. RMBL’s studies on global climate change, the effects of acid rain, species propagation and species extinction are based within the High Elk Corridor.

According to Dr. John Harte, a longtime RMBL research scientist, the pristine qualities of the High Elk Corridor would be jeopardized by development, which would interfere with the continuum of studies RMBL has been conducting for more than 75 years.

As Paul Ehrlich, another noted RMBL scientist and author who has been visiting the site for 40 years, explains, “This area is a biological treasure trove for scientists and the general public.”

If you love this place for its natural beauty and scientific value; if you love this place because it enriches your body, mind and spirit; if you love this place for any reason at all, now is the time to give back with contributions for critical land purchases.

Contact the Friends of the High Elk Corridor through a local land trust or the Trust for Public Lands. TPL can be reached by e-mail (highelk@tpl.org) or by calling TPL’s Denver office: (303) 837-1414. Yours is a gift that will keep on giving.

Paul Andersen’s column appears every Monday.


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