A 54-acre Marble property was recently donated with the intent to preserve public access and wildlife habitat. The property boasts extensive wetlands with ample beaver activity. Photo by Olivia Emmer

A long-sought Marble-area land donation was completed at the end of 2021 between an anonymous donor and the Trust for Land Restoration (TLR), a Ridgway-based nonprofit. The property, a 54-acre strip of land with wetlands on one side and steep forested hillside on the other, has been used by the public for river access for decades.

John Armstrong, president of the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association (CVEPA), shepherded the project. Armstrong says the owner started pursuing donation of the property in 2008, but the presence of 100-year-old mine waste deterred several potential recipients from accepting the donation, citing environmental liability concerns.

After two promising efforts to take on the property by both the Aspen Valley Land Trust (AVLT) and Pitkin County Open Space and Trails (PCOST) were unsuccessful, Armstrong had nearly run out of time to save the wetlands. The donor had given a 2021 deadline and was considering selling if she couldn’t find a recipient.

Just days before the end of the year, Armstrong pitched the property to TLR. “This is exactly the kind of deal TLR was created to help complete,” says their Executive Director, Pat Willits. According to their website, TLR is “dedicated to understanding and overcoming environmental liability issues so that abandoned mines in the West can be remediated and restored.” The deed was recorded in Gunnison County just hours before the end of business for 2021.

After working with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to assure public safety and resolve any environmental liability problems, TLR intends to transfer the property to a long-term owner. Potential owners include AVLT, the town of Marble, PCOST and the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife, which owns adjacent land. Site mitigation will likely include buck-and-rail fencing around the “slag pile” and the removal of errant debris.

Armstrong says that the study done by CDPHE supports the idea “that the slag heap being out in the open air doesn’t pose a threat to the environment and health of visitors.”

The property, now being referred to as the “Marble Wetlands Preserve,” sits across the Crystal River from the town of Marble. It runs, more-or-less, along the Crystal River near its confluence with Yule Creek down to its confluence with Carbonate Creek, above the Marble Mill Site Park. Users typically enter the property from CPW land off of West Third Street, also referred to as Quarry Road. Approximately three-quarters of a mile of trail exists due to an old railroad grade.

Near the access point, the clear waters of the Crystal River snake by. Further upstream, beaver dams abound and the wetlands stretch from steep hillsides to Beaver Lake. Beavers are a keystone species, creating and maintaining wetlands where many other plants and animals thrive.

Alex Menard, who has lived in Marble for more than 30 years, says he’s seen moose, bald eagles, great blue herons and bears in his decades of walking the railroad bed. Menard is also curator of the Marble history museum and a volunteer at the Marble Hub. He’s coordinated public events on the property, like wildflower walks and wetlands education, as has the Roaring Fork Conservancy.

Menard admits that some locals might not be excited about the attention the trail is receiving, but he muses, “I think the only way to keep something is to share it.” Both Menard and Armstrong praised the property for its wide, flat path which has potential to be accessible to a wide range of abilities.

The trail eventually crosses onto private property near Yule Creek. Just around a bend are the Yule Creek falls. Armstrong says that people have been using this route to access the falls for around 130 years and that, “a very big goal for CVEPA is to work out an arrangement with the adjacent property owner to maintain the historic public access to the waterfall.”

Armstrong is proud of the role CVEPA played in preserving this property for the public trust. He also noted the hard work of CVEPA Vice President Dale Will, for managing the eleventh-hour paperwork to complete the transaction. He also credits Mark Rudolph of CDPHE for connecting the dots to TLR. “The fact that we were able to help with the conservation of this property right across the street from where CVEPA was founded is really pretty neat.” CVEPA is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.