The 500-pound cow elk was wild-eyed as she kept trying to escape the trap.
She continued to jump up on the eight-foot-tall walls of her plywood pen until she finally broke down a section. The “wapiti” (the Shawnee and Cree word for elk) struggled to get her front legs over the wall. When she succeeded, she vaulted the enclosure and bolted into the woods.
We were up on Elk Mountain in Marble gathering data to prove that the hillside where the Marble Ski Area proposed to build condominiums and a school campus was critical winter elk habitat.
As the most recent resident of Marble Valley, I had rented a tiny, uninsulated cabin from rancher Gus Darien.
The cabin was several meters from the bridge over the Crystal River along Marble Road.
It was a cold December in 1972, and the snow was already knee deep. Seeing a car on the road was an event. We estimated between four and six cars passing the cabin before noon each day. Gus soon became a close friend and mentor to this long-haired, 20-year-old hippie kid. He told me that he had sold his 640 acre ranch to the would-be developers of the Marble Ski Area, so I was familiar with the threat.
One morning, there came a knock on the door of the frozen cabin. I looked out to see a handsome, young game warden in the full uniform of the Colorado Division of Wildlife. He saw the smoke curling up out of the stovepipe and came to introduce himself.
John Seidel was well known in the Valley for his quick wit, the twinkle in his eye, and his staunch defense of wildlife. Seidel explained his project of baiting the elk with alfalfa, retaining them in the pen after they triggered the trap door, then fitting them with a radio collar while holding them in a cattle squeeze-chute.
Over a pot of coffee, we decided that two of us working the elk trap together was better than one. John fired up his snowmobile and I put on my Tenth Mountain Division surplus hickory skis.
He threw me the rope and off we went, John on the throttle and I skijoring up the mountain behind the snowmobile! There were no helmets, no waivers, just snow flying and two men on a mission. Numerous elk were fitted with telemetry over the winter. John Seidel gathered data, attended many meetings and helped battle the ill-conceived plot that would have forever changed the Marble Valley.
A few weeks later, I was in Marble visiting my old friend Leo Pascal. Leo and I met working together on my first Forest Service assignment at the Mount Sopris Tree Farm (now Crown Mountain Park). Leo had retired to one of the original Marble cabins along Carbonate Creek.
We walked down to Lloyd Blue’s house in downtown Marble. Lloyd had just been elected mayor of the newly-resurrected town of Marble, which had been a ghost town since the quarry went bust before the World War II. The townsfolk, then numbering 30, wanted to revive the township in order to have a more united voice in what their fate might become.
Sitting around the table were several men and women who pledged their resolve to fight the Marble Ski’s affront to their lifestyle and the environment they loved. They told me about John Zakovich, the front-range opportunist who promised to develop Marble Valley, “like God would have if he had the money!”
Most of these Marble and Redstone residents at the table were in their 60s. It was clear that there was a wealth of knowledge, life experience, wisdom and passion to protect their beloved valley. Leo produced photos of the Marble Ski Area employee trailer sewer running out towards his water source. The Gunnison County Commissioners and the U.S. Forest Service had already lent their support to the ski company. Legislators had been lobbied to fast track the development.
There were numerous accounts of the treachery at Marble’s door. All this prompted a commitment to work together, to present a united front to oppose the developers and the resolve to form a group to defend the environment of the Crystal Valley. Those dedicated men and women organized 50 years ago to become the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association.
To learn more and to support the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association, visit: cvepa.org