Land Trust, RMBL hoping to purchase North Pole Basin

CBMR president takes 30 percent off the price

Despite the threat of rain, Heather Carroll was happy to be on her way into North Pole Basin. As a member of the Great Outdoors Colorado board, she gets the chance to visit any of the projects across the state applying for grants from the organization and she’s seen some incredible places. She, along with GOCO’s Open Space Program Coordinator Josh Tenneson and State Agency Program Coordinator Chris Yuan-Farrell, had just come from an historic ranch in Creede that could someday be protected as open space. But this trip, on an old mining road leading out of Schofield Park, was different.

 

 

“Usually we only have time for the 15-minute tour,” she says. “But this is great.” There was no way, even on the heels of Crested Butte Land Trust Executive Director Ann Johnston, they could even glimpse what was here in just a few minutes. But in a bid to show the group why GOCO should help fund the acquisition of the basin, the silence of the forest and the burble of the creek might have been all they needed to hear.
The road that wound up through the pine forest could have been started when the placer mining claim was first filed on the land along North Pole Creek more than a century ago. Since then, however, it had seen some work by a few different owners and on a bench in the hillside, six cabins were scattered in the trees.
The buildings were strong and not old, sealed up by plywood and modern screws, giving the place the feel of an unopened summer camp. And for decades, that’s akin to what it was. Being held in private hands, North Pole Basin has been cut off to the public by a gate at one end and the sheer, banded cliffs of Treasury Mountain at the other. But with the help of GOCO and other funding partners, the CBLT in partnership with the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, is hoping to change that.
As Tenneson put it, after the General Mining Act was passed in 1872, it was easy for anyone to stake a claim anywhere they thought minerals might be. To keep the land, they only needed to show that they were actively mining or investing in the operation with paperwork filed with the government every year. Other than the road, there’s no evidence of that work here.
Instead, years of private ownership by the Callaways, and now the Muellers, have left North Pole Basin largely untouched, save for a few stream diversions done in the last half-century. But even those are slowly succumbing to natural forces. So when Crested Butte Mountain Resort president Tim Mueller agreed to sell the parcel to the Land Trust and RMBL, taking 30 percent of the property’s value off the purchase price, the last hurdle to protection was coming up with $1.3 million.
The basin’s relative isolation, along with its place among other protected areas–like the adjacent Raggeds Wilderness and the 200-acre Mexican Cut to the south–the Nature Conservancy’s oldest Colorado property and an important research site for RMBL scientists–have made permanent protection a goal.
“The [North Pole Basin] has been a priority for conservation for decades.  It is part of the High Elk Corridor conservation project, initially launched from a planning grant awarded to the Crested Butte Land Trust and the Trust for Public Land in the early 2000s by Great Outdoors Colorado,” Johnston says. “It complements protection of the Schofield Townsite, a joint project by RMBL, CBMR and the Crested Butte Land Trust in the mid 1990s.”
With the potential to preserve open space and provide public access to a new area, along with the opportunity to offer the scientific community an important research and education site, “the project fits in well with [GOCO’s] strategic goals,” Tenneson says.
Along with an application to GOCO, CBLT is applying for a grant from the Gates Family Foundation, as well as tapping into its pool of private donors. RMBL has agreed to raise $250,000 and the Town of Crested Butte, the Nature Conservancy, Colorado Outward Bound School, the White River National Forest, the Colorado Natural Areas Program, the Gunnison Ranchlands Conservation Legacy, the Trust for Public Land and HCCA have all signed letters in support of the project.
CBMR president Tim Mueller says, “CBMR is pleased to work with the Land Trust and RMBL to conserve such a spectacular and unique property.  We are excited to know that the property will aid in scientific research for generations to come, and that the project will also allow for public access.”  
Once the funds are raised and the deal is closed, the CBLT will convey ownership of the property to RMBL and continue to hold a Conservation Easement on 158 acres that will restrict future development, although the details of how the existing buildings will be managed haven’t been settled.    
“We are extremely appreciative of the opportunity CBMR has given us,” RMBL executive director Ian Billick says. “In addition to supporting science which led to national legislation to protect air in the western US, the Mexican Cut has supported 19 graduate degrees and 60+ scientific papers.  Because of its proximity to the Cut, North Pole Basin will create significant scientific opportunities and will expand the kind of science that can be done.”
Johnston agrees, adding, “This project will benefit our community in many ways. The North Pole Basin has been a priority for the Land Trust and RMBL for decades, and we thank CBMR for supporting our efforts to preserve this exceptional property.”

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