By John Armstrong
Every time you pick up the paper it seems there is an article about Marble. It might be about the Marble Quarry, off highway vehicle (OHV) impacts, Wild and Scenic Designation or simply overcrowding. Why all the interest in this little hamlet way up the Crystal River? For those of us who have called Marble home for so many years, the answers are simple. The Crystal Valley is one of the gems of Colorado! We came for the natural beauty, to be at the head of a pristine watershed with unspoiled vistas, to get away from the hub-bub, not to be bothered and to revel in the peace and quiet of this sleepy mountain town. Marble has the best hikes, the best lakes, the best flowers and autumn foliage. For so many decades, we seemingly had this all to ourselves.
Ask people now and they will tell you that Marble has the best skiing, the best statuary stone, the best off OHV trail, the best stand-up paddle boarding and a great BBQ joint. Being at the back door to the Maroon Bells, on the road to the famous Crystal Mill, brings challenges unforeseen decades ago. Sharing all this bounty can be difficult when you see your valley being loved to death and your lifestyle threatened. CVEPA (Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association) regards clean air and water and safety and tranquility as inalienable.
Today, the onus of environmental defense is on all of us.
We are at another juncture and Marble can decide what it wants to be. It has all the natural resources to help create its future. There are people that want what Marble has to offer. One thing we can be sure of is that the world is not going to go away. Elected officials are listening to you, the press hears you. At a Marble town meeting this spring, both the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Gunnison County Commissioners encouraged Marbelians to coalesce with their vision of what they want their future to look like. Speak to the town council, the commissioners and the land managers. Communication and collaboration is the key. No one gets everything they want, but if we work together, we will all get what we need.
OHV traffic in town and their overuse has put never-before-seen stresses on the Lead King Basin. There are simply no legal OHV parking options in Marble. Marble OHV use is only legal on the national forest but the USFS has left the burden to the hamlet of Marble while leaving the Gunnison County Commission in the middle of the problem. Still, there is no clear signal from Marble Valley what the majority wants their future to be. The Gunnison County Commissioners and the USFS have now pledged over $20,000 for a facilitator to move forward the process of mitigation, be it permitting, prohibition or legalization.
One thing we can be sure of is change. Two weeks of rogue and unprecedented thunderstorms have destabilized the gulches of Redstone Canyon. In the midst of several high dollar and proactive CDOT rockfall mitigation projects, climate change gave a show of force that will have repercussions for generations to come. CDOT’s response was remarkable, for which we are all so grateful. Just as our valley experienced change overnight, we must be realistic about our expectations of CDOT. To that end, CVEPA continues to work with CDOT on the ongoing issue of landslide debris disposal.
CVEPA has worked for 15 months to gain clearance from environmental liabilities for the 55-acre wetlands property across from Beaver Lake. CVEPA attained a State grant and found pro bono lab analysis that saved a lot of money evaluating the old Hoffman Smelter Site. After receiving the State’s final report the Aspen Valley Land Trust will acquire the property for conservation to keep the property out of development for perpetuity. The land is a living laboratory for our schools and a quiet preserve for wildlife, locals and visitors alike. The wetland sits at the confluence of the Crystal River and Yule Creek and acts as a filter for particulates and contaminants in the water.
The Pride of America Marble Quarry, operated by Colorado Stone Quarries (CSQ), is located three miles up Yule Creek. CVEPA initially reported the quarry’s unpermitted relocation of a quarter mile section of Yule Creek to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Army Corps required CSQ to submit a plan for compensatory mitigation to atone for their violation. Only through the Freedom of Information Act, CVEPA and it’s partners received the CSQ proposal. Recommendations for mitigation were submitted last year to the Corps by Gunnison and Pitkin counties, the Crystal Caucus, Wilderness Workshop, Roaring Fork Conservancy, High Country Conservation Advocates and others. None of the recommendations were honored by the Army Corps in the proposal except the on-site stream restoration. CVEPA and our partners are troubled that burying the original stream in 97,000 yards of debris bears no penalty of enforcement action by our federal overseer nor has any meaningful mitigation been agreed upon.
Protection of the people and property downstream, water quality, flood and siltation risks and environmental degradation are great concerns to CVEPA beyond the unsightly trench lined with marble blocks. This group of partners and citizens will continue to work in solidarity with the Army Corps of Engineers and hopefully with the quarry to achieve mitigation that is fair and beneficial to all.
Change indeed! At the recent CVEPA meeting, Crystal Mountain Ranch owner Chris Cox apprised members about his plans for a development around the iconic “ghost town” of Crystal City. Citing the legacy of five generations of family ownership of Crystal City and a resolve to keep Crystal from becoming another trophy of a billionaire, Cox detailed his proposition for a development at Crystal City. Two pods of 10 cabins each would be cached in the woods and a dining hall built to support guests. This “eco-lodge” would have hydro-power, cross country and cat skiing, hiking and biking, guest transportation between Crystal and Marble and more. This endeavour would be the biggest change in Crystal City since the construction of the Dead Horse Mill. As much as 85% of the 760-acre ranch would be put into a conservation easement. Cox and his partner Stuart Gillespie have an ambitious vision for the Crystal area which raises many questions moving forward. Gunnison County is very interested in learning more about the proposal, as we all are.
Fifty years ago we were told that Marble was going to the best new ski area with a town the size of Grand Junction and a tramway to bring you over the mountains to Snowmass. A handful of brave men and women who loved this valley met around a kitchen table in Marble and vowed that this was not this valley’s fate. They formed CVEPA, they were in solidarity, they were maligned and called selfish, they were ostracized by many but they worked hard and they prevailed! Marble and Redstone are CVEPA’s roots.
To learn more and to support the CVEPA mission visit https://cvepa.org/