By Alex Menard
Sopris Sun Correspondent
A meeting of environmental minds took place on May 26 at Marble Wetlands — a new, non-motorized recreation trail and wildlife refuge adjacent to the town of Marble. The event was a planning session for the area, which still has no official name. Planners included representatives of two land trusts, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), Trout Unlimited Wetlands Restoration Group, the town of Marble and local environmental groups.
This 55-acre parcel includes a trail that also serves as the boundary between a forest to its south and extensive wetlands to its north. The scenic trail follows the historic Treasury Mountain Railroad trail and passes the ore crusher and smelter sites from Marble’s early history. The tailings left from the smelter operations are an environmental concern, but seem to be at a manageable scale.
The team of planners brought together expertise from diverse backgrounds toward a common goal: to manage the risk from the tailings pile in order to allow the public to enjoy the area. John Armstrong of the Crystal Valley Protection Association and Pat Willits of the Trust for Land Restoration (TLR) are the quarterback and running back of the team; together they assembled this group.
Willits describes their game plan: “TLR is working with CDPHE and Trout Unlimited to develop a plan to clean up the smelter slag pile to standards approved by the state of Colorado’s Voluntary Clean-Up Program.” The plan is expected to include: sweep-up and on-site burial of loose slag; capping of the hardened slag pile with inert road base; construction of a catchment basin at the toe of the hardened slag pile; construction of a ranch-style, three-rail pole fence around the site with interpretive signage.
TLR anticipates completion of the project this fall and estimates the cost at less than $100,000. They will then donate the land to a public or nonprofit entity in 2023. Funding for the project is available from CDPHE, according to environmental scientist Mark Rudolph. The town of Marble, represented by administrator Ron Leach, was asked to act as the project’s fiscal agent, holding and dispersing the funds as needed.
Through their Mined Land Restoration program, Trout Unlimited extends their concern for healthy fish to concern for healthy waters and, beyond that, for habitat restoration. Trout Unlimited will act as contractors for the project.
Aspen Valley Land Trust Director Suzanne Stevens asked about the potential liability from ownership of the Wetlands site. In response, Willits said that there is the Good Samaritan Remediation of Abandoned Mines Bill, passed by the state to provide liability protection for voluntary restoration of mine sites.
Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers, represented by director Melissa Daniels, attended the meeting as well. They are always investigating new opportunities for projects and have done much work in Marble in the past decade.