County faces land management problems in Marble

New project and collaboration on the horizon

[ By Katherine Nettles ]

The pressure of increased recreationalists throughout Gunnison County includes areas outside of the typical zones for enforcement such as Marble and Tin Cup. Gunnison County commissioners discussed in several of their meetings this fall how to work with overlapping land management agencies and municipalities to get on the same page for better land use enforcement and consistent messaging. Commissioners also met with Marble officials this month to discuss new recreational project plans to help guide the increased tourism in the area, even during winter months.

Summer issues
According to Gunnison County Public Works director Marlene Crosby, new corners of the county are becoming overwhelmed by summer ATV use, illegal parking and reckless drivers. Crosby told commissioners in September that she was fielding many calls from constituents about traffic, illegal parking and unsanctioned use of municipal- and county-owned lands in areas such as Marble, Tin Cup and Taylor Park.

Crosby said a lot of calls were coming in about Marble in particular, regarding speeding on County Road 3 and the lack of law enforcement there. Beaver Lake, which lies just south of County Road 3, was designed to be a riparian wildlife preserve and not for recreation.

“But now the paddle boards and other boaters are disrupting the birds,” said Crosby, which has negatively affected their nesting behavior. The town of Marble is considering a wildlife-designated area only, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) would likely work on the management, she said.

“The sheriff’s office can give tickets but they haven’t been,” explained Crosby. “We have pictures of 20, 30, 40 cars parked in front of the ‘no parking’ signs on that road.”

Crosby said her crews had placed large rocks there as deterrents, but vehicles just moved to the other side of the road.
“I think we need some more formalized communication from the board to these entities,” said commissioner Jonathan Houck. That includes CPW, the Forest Service (White River National Forest), the sheriff’s office and the town of Marble.
“We’ve got management issues. And the frustration for me is that there’s no release valve on Marble. There’s no more space to go. It’s not like, oh, it’s full here, and we’ll move over to the next drainage; it is literally the end of that valley. And the growing pressures from Glenwood, from Carbondale, that whole corridor is year-round. This isn’t just a summer issue anymore,” said Houck.

Crosby pointed out that off-highway vehicle (OHV) and all terrain vehicle (ATV) use puts added pressure on the area. The town of Marble does allow that type of use within town limits.

“I think one of the themes we’ve got to strike … is we’ve got to have plans that dovetail with each other,” said Houck of the entities that have different restrictions for adjacent areas. “Until we have some overlap on this it isn’t going to change. And what’s happening in Marble is happening across the whole American West.”

One possible solution is increasing seasonal enforcement, pointed out commissioner Roland Mason, including a sheriff’s position planned to alleviate such issues.

“I think they are seeing the same kind of pressure that the Slate River was feeling,” said Mason of the new Forest Service restrictions on dispersed camping along the Slate. “I think this is an area that we really need to work on.”

The commissioners have since reached out to the White River National Forest to implement its own travel management strategies.

“We are sandwiched between the town and the forest. Pitkin County, like Gunnison, has banned ATVs on their roads. And the White River Forest has banned it most places, but allowed it there. And Marble has allowed it,” said Houck.

“If you’re going to allow it, you’ve got to manage it,” he continued. “They don’t seem to be managing that motorized use in that corner of the White River National Forest with the same amount of effort that they put into other parts of the White River National Forest.”

“I think their idea of managing is ‘We don’t approve any additional parking,’” replied Crosby. That has led to parking in unauthorized places, and long sheriff’s department response times.

In October, Mason updated the board that he had been reaching out to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the town of Marble and the Gunnison county sheriff’s office to get a joint public meeting scheduled. “I’m hoping then we can combine the issues that we’ve heard and come up with a plan for next spring; particularly around Beaver Lake,” he said.

Crystal Mill Project
The commissioners reviewed a work plan and budget request this month for the Marble Crystal River Chamber of Commerce, which includes a land preservation and recreation development project.

The town of Marble recently purchased three parcels of land west of the Marble Mill Site Park, and plans to put cross-country ski trails in, add signage with an interactive history of Marble, and rehabilitate some of the historic structures throughout the town as part of the project. The town of Marble has received three new grants this year that will aid in funding the projects, including a Great Outdoors Colorado grant that funded the majority of the property acquisition.

Marble Crystal River Chamber of Commerce representative David Adams presented commissioners with the project overview earlier this month, which includes funding from the county.

Commissioners approved of the concept and the budget request of just under $30,000, and asked about overall land management practices as they had previously discussed.

“I think the budget proposal looks fine. My comment is really around the rebranding that you did,” said Mason. He said he is interested in parking improvements, discussing issues that were brought up this fall around overcrowding, and managing County Road 3 along Beaver Lake.

“We’re 100 percent into that,” replied Adams.

The budget request squares up with the lodging tax revenue generated from Marble, noted commissioner Jonathan Houck.
“We appreciate the connectivity we have with you all,” said Houck. “We want to be managing tourism to let it be a blessing and not a curse.”

The Marble Crystal River Chamber has stated that the organization is somewhat limited on what they can do with the funding they have, since by statute that money cannot be used for capital projects. Houck said they would be happy to work with them to find solutions for the community.

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