Environmental scan puts the gift of marble swamps at your fingertips
You wouldn’t want to put it in your granola, in the words of Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association president John Armstrong, but a pile of rubbish from a 1900s smelter operation near the banks of the Crystal River in Marble. does not appear. pose sufficient environmental risk to prevent the donation of 55 acres of otherwise amazing land, mostly wetlands, to a land conservation organization.
But the road to reaching this point has been a long one for the private owner of the three now contiguous plots across the river that the owner has been trying since 2016 to see data and permanently preserved in its natural state. Meanwhile, concerns about the potential liabilities associated with the slag heap delayed the initiative.
But support from CVEPA, which agreed to spend $ 1,000 on analyzing the material, as well as a discussion with the Pitkin County Rivers and Streams Board of Directors about a grant, gave impetus to the effort last year.
This spring, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) completed its site scan and determined that the levels of contaminants in the material were within the range considered non-threatening to human health for a leisure site for daytime use.
In the end, the analytical work was done for free and the promoters hope that the pledged funds can be used for materials to fence off the slag heap and put up interpretive signs explaining the history of the foundry. and the slag left behind. This would complement a possible management framework in which a land conservation agency holds title to the property and allows passive, non-motorized public access along an existing road along the river.
This would respect long-standing patterns of use in the field, where private owners have allowed the public to hike, bike or Nordic ski. The Biodiversity Area Straddling the River and Wooded Hill, named by Marble History Museum curator Alex Menard as the Nameless Trail, has been the site of nature walks organized by the Roaring Fork Conservancy to observe beaver dams dotting wetlands. Part of it near the slag heap is also marked by giant slabs of marble – likely left by a railroad that ran through the site to a marble quarry on Treasure Mountain – that a former owner artistically has stacked right next to the trail.
The trail itself leads to scenic waterfalls on Yule Creek, although the falls are just above the property line on an adjacent plot controlled by a separate owner.
“It really is a wildlife sanctuary,” said Menard, who helped bring the project to CVEPA’s attention. “It’s a place where you can see an eagle pulling a trout out of the water with its talons, then half a mile up there is a moose; walk a little more, there is a bear, a blue heron. It is a wild place.
As Armstrong noted, it might also be a desirable location for a ‘McMansion’, if not for the benevolence of the private donor – an out-of-state woman who also donated the land from the city which becomes Marble Children’s Park. This land is now owned by Aspen Valley Land Trust, which is working with the city and securing additional grants to beautify the site.
The AVLT is also essential to the effort to conserve the wetland patch. AVLT staff are completing the survey and title work on the property and will soon be proposing actions to the Land Trust Board of Directors. However, the exact form of this action remains to be determined, according to Suzanne Stephens, director of the AVLT.
“(We) have discussed with our land committee the potential acceptance of rights ownership, but we are also looking at potential partnerships and other options for ownership, so it’s not a given that we’ll end up with.” , wrote Stephens in an email. “However, we are committed to protecting it in one way or another.”
Potential partners include Colorado Parks and Wildlife, CVEPA, Pitkin County and others, Stephens said.
The site is “unquestionably one of the most important wetlands and riparian parcels in the valley,” Stephens said.
“The fact that it borders Beaver Lake and that almost all of its area is made up of wetlands and rivers makes it extremely important from a land and water conservation perspective,” he said. -she writes, referring to the body of water located on a parcel belonging to the CPW. North. “The habitat is crucial and threatened in the west, and combined with the proximity to the town of Marble and the fact that the foundry site is of historical importance and the plot offers flat, easy access and a nice walk. make it a rare gem that deserves to be kept for a multitude of reasons.
‘Like a drop of glass’
In the early days of industrialization and European settlement in the Crystal River Valley, an ore smelting and crushing operation known as the Hoffman smelter was erected on the site, according to Menard’s historical accounting. The site processed silver, lead, zinc and copper ore transported by mule train from the Marble mines between 1898 and 1911 approximately.
The foundry is long gone, but its shadow still hangs over the site. According to Armstrong, initial donation efforts in 2016 and 2017 collapsed over concerns about the slag heap, although supporters have long argued that such concerns would ultimately be inconsequential.
The pile in question – perhaps 50 feet long and 10 feet high and located near the edge of the trail – “looks like something volcanic,” Armstrong said.
However, the mostly solid mound is throwing out pieces the size of small rocks. But there is no strong presence of dust or other materials that could be washed away by a thunderstorm or become suspended in dry conditions. CVEPA’s hope has been that all toxic material will be inert, locked in the rock.
“I have a strong feeling that this shouldn’t be something that should prevent the acquisition of something,” Armstrong said in December, as CVEPA awaited the results of a materials analysis involving a private lab and the CDPHE.
The CDPHE – which was reviewing the site following a grant process where projects of public interest are submitted – has largely completed its analysis and its findings are consistent with Armstrong’s characterization.
“Nothing is alarming,” said Mark Rudolph, environmental protection analyst and contaminated sites coordinator at CDPHE. He called the milkman “like a drop of glass.”
Rudolph noted that the vegetation around the slag heap is healthy and the water quality in the Crystal River, about 50 yards from the material, meets the highest standards. The lead concentrations in the material fall within the range deemed acceptable for recreation sites, he said, and most appear to be locked in the rock formation.
A final CDPHE report is pending and will include recommendations on how to manage the site for public use. These recommendations will likely include getting rid of the particles that have come off the slag heap from the road. The road was recently constructed using a historic easement which allows access to a neighboring owner, who is developing a house. Other strategies could include reseeding the areas around the pile and using crushed marble or other material to cover the slag particles visible on the shoulder of the road.
“It will be a great addition to the city if we can make it through to the end,” Menard said of the conservation effort.
For Armstong and CVEPA, there is still work to be done to ensure public access to the falls, which is about 1.5 miles from the start of the walk through the wetlands. The falls are on the property of the man who recently built the road. He could not be reached for comment.
“The owner of the private property appears willing to allow access, as he has placed no trespassing signs further down the road beyond the access to the falls,” CVEPA wrote in an article. of the Winter 2020 Newsletter about the Marble Wetlands Donation Initiative.
Aspen Journalism is a local nonprofit investigative organization covering the environment in conjunction with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. To learn more, visit http://www.aspenjournalism.org.