County helps to conserve property near Marble

Adding 80 acres to the Aspen Valley Land Trust’s basecamp

By Katherine Nettles 

Gunnison County commissioners agreed last week to help fund a growing land preservation project east of Marble that complements a nearby conservation easement it took part in last fall. The Aspen Valley Land Trust (AVLT) is working to acquire 80 additional acres adjacent to its recent acquisition of a former Colorado Outward Bound property, and commissioners approved a $100,000 grant agreement from the Gunnison Valley Land Preservation fund. The $3.5 million project is referred to as the Marble Basecamp Expansion, and grant agreements to support the project are also coming in from several other entities. 

AVLT will use the 80 acres of undeveloped land in conjunction with another 43 acres of former Outward Bound property and the 47-acre Chapin Wright Marble Basecamp property as an outdoor education campus. The goal of the non-profit organization is to inspire the next generation of land stewards with the region’s youth.  

The Marble basecamp borders the White River National Forest across nearly three miles. A portion of the campus was the home of the first Outward Bound course in America in 1962. For almost 60 years, Outward Bound trained and organized students prior to leading them out on wilderness excursions and welcomed them back after the excursions were complete. The campus has nine bunk cabins, a dining hall with a fireplace and kitchen, gear and tool storage structure, a high ropes course, a bath/shower house, an office, infirmary and several apartments. The campus never reopened after its closure during COVID in 2020. Much of it is in disrepair, and the project cost includes needed renovations.

AVLT purchased the former Outward Bound property in October 2023, and AVLT acquired the Chapin Wright Marble Basecamp in 2016. The Crested Butte Land Trust (CBLT) holds the conservation easement on the Chapin Wright campus and CBLT is co-holding the conservation easement on the former Outward Bound basecamp along with Pitkin County. 

The Gunnison Valley Land Preservation Board approved funding for the project at their February 12 meeting and recommended commissioner approval. The Gunnison Valley Land Preservation Fund comes from a portion of current county-wide sales tax in Gunnison County that is designated for open space, agricultural preservation, wildlife habitat, wetland preservation, access to public lands, trails, and watershed protection in the county, including matching public and private grants or to acquire interests or easements in land and water rights. The Fund was originally established by public vote in 1997 and was reauthorized in 2012. 

According to a March 5 memo submitted to the Gunnison County commissioners from Gunnison County GIS manager Mike Pelletier, the expansion of the property will further safeguard the area’s wildlife habitat, existing programs and create more accessible camping for youth in the region. 

“This will also protect the land’s ecological values and the historic legacy of the Colorado Outward Bound School, while opening the land to even more students to access the great outdoors,” wrote Pelletier. “Additionally, protecting all of these 170 total acres together will allow for consistent management that supports the conservation values including the wildlife habitat, water resources, and educational programs.” 

AVLT’s conservation director Erin Quinn and stewardship director Bud Tymczyszyn joined the commissioners’ meeting this month to describe the expanding project and share their gratitude for Gunnison County’s role in it. 

“We have always been appreciative of our partnership with Gunnison County and the support that you’ve given us for our work up in Marble,” said Tymczyszyn. “A lot of this is possible, and the whole trajectory of our organization has been possible, because of the 2016 support that you gave us for the Chapin Wright Marble Basecamp project which is just slightly uphill from the Outward Bound property. So that’s where our foothold in outdoor education started. 

“In 2023 the Colorado Outward Bound school approached us and asked us to purchase and protect their campus,” continued Tymczyszyn. “And shortly after that the neighbors who owned an adjacent 80 acres approached us with the same request. So our vision is to purchase and protect that 43 acre Outward Bound property and also purchase and protect that 80 acre adjacent property which is 123 new protected acres added in to our total 170-acre outdoor education campus up there.” 

Tymczyszyn said the property would be closed during critical wildlife periods; during outdoor education season, the hope is to open the campus to local public schools and education partners in the valley. 

“We intend for this to be a widely used property,” added Quinn.

Commissioners approved the grant agreement unanimously after brief discussion.

“Outward Bound’s basecamp in Marble is amazingly historically significant and is actually a touchpoint for a lot of people in our community who have worked for Outward Bound, connected with Outward Bound and participated in Outward Bound. We really appreciate AVLT’s work on this,” summarized commissioner Jonathan Houck. He noted Gunnison County’s contribution is a small portion of a large funding need, and that the county is one in a very large group of donors coming together with significant resources. 

Great Outdoors Colorado is contributing $1 million to the purchase, Pitkin County is contributing $890,000, the city of Aspen is contributing $200,000 and several other private foundations, businesses and anonymous donors are contributing various amounts for a total of $3.1 million raised so far. There remain fundraising needs of $337,664 to complete the project, and closing is expected sometime this month.  

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