Letter: Don’t sell off El Jebel land

I am writing this as a comment on the proposed sale of U.S. Forest Service land in El Jebel. My name is Mark Duff and I work at Basalt High School. For the past 15 years I have been taking my River Watch class to this property as our primary study site. The class visits the site 20 to 25 times in a school year. The design of the class is a multidisciplinary field ecology class. This land provides a wonderful living laboratory for students to learn in. The students over the years have been very fortunate for the opportunity to visit and learn in such an environment. There is an ever-growing importance of land being public and with open-free access.

I have to emphasize just how special the learning environment is at this site. We learn about the hydrology, riparian plant communities and wetlands. The site has intact wetland hydrology and plant communities, with high wetland plant species diversity, and includes rare plants such as the yellow lady slipper orchid (Cypripedium calceolus). We collect and study plants and the aquatic macroinvertebrates; some years we gather silver buffalo berries and make jam. In addition to the science the students learn, we read essays including this fall H. D. Thoreau and Aldo Leopold. Other projects conducted at the site include writing essays, poetry and photo essays, and sometimes we just amble through the cottonwoods unplugged from the busy modern world.

This community can provide an example of how to maintain open access to an ecologically sound natural area so readily available to everyone. It is a beautiful place to walk the dog, learn and unplug. Yes, it is in need of some active management, such as trail improvements to reduce the impacts on native vegetation.

This valley already has enough natural areas that are set aside for those who pay. These include Rock Bottom Ranch, Hallam Lake, ski resorts, golf courses and hot springs. Even though Frisbee golf is free at Snowmass, most users pay for the lift in order to access it. Please keep this parcel of land open, free and accessible for all to learn and enjoy. Let’s think beyond the narrow constraints of immediate dividends accrued to a more open access of the natural world for all.

Mark Duff

Science teacher, Basalt High School

Letter to the Editor