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Education, conservation come together at Marble Basecamp

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As Aspen Valley Land Trust doubles down on “community conservation,” Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers is proving a valuable partner. Crews from RFOV spent the weekend at the Marble Basecamp, a property that AVLT purchased three years ago in an effort to maintain and expand a decades-long tradition.

For more than 50 years, Aspen Middle School eighth graders have been making the trek to aspen grove near North Lost Trail to spend some time off the grid and in the woods. A series of landowners have honored the deal, but the last time it came up for sale, the Land Trust decided not to risk it.

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AVLT got it start as the owner of several of Aspen’s parks back in the 1960s, and now holds conservation easements on more than 40,000 acres across Pitkin, Gunnison, Garfield, Eagle and Mesa counties. While open space and ranchland is a big focus, the organization is not at all opposed to conservation with public use in mind. Most recently, AVLT worked with the Town of Carbondale to purchase a plot of land at the base of Red Hill, backed by a successful fundraising campaign.

Preserving the Basecamp property also required community support and, according to Stewardship Director Dave Erickson, there was plenty of that.

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“We did a big fundraising effort, and people were just ready to donate,” he said. “It really leaves an impact on those kids that go through it.”

Education Outreach Coordinator Brian Hightower couldn’t agree more.

“All we want is for kids to unplug and just be. It’s getting harder and harder for people to carve out time to really have contact with their environment. As much as the draw of nature brings people here, I think a lot of people don’t have the free time to take advantage of it. And that kind of migrates down to the kids,” he said. “I think it’s important to connect not only with the environment but with your place. We’re trying to grow the next generation of land stewards. They’ve been there and touched it and know that it’s important to save it.”

It’s symbiotically distinct from the Outward Bound site just down the road, he observed. Both feel like wilderness despite being reasonably accessible. OB is focused on building survival skills for a select few, while Basecamp is about creating an experience for as many local kids as possible.

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“The only thing they have to survive is can they sleep on lumpy ground,” Hightower observed. “We’re the introduction, and we hope they love it enough to continue to pursue different skills and experiences out there. We want to grow the programs up there slowly so everyone has a rewarding experience and Marble Basecamp can become a place of tradition that’s just a right of passage.”

With a Great Outdoors Colorado grant in the mix, AVLT closed on the property in June 2016 and the Crested Butte Land Trust took on the conservation easement. Since then, it’s been a slow process of improvement and outreach.

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“We’ve reached out to the different schools in the Valley about how this place has been used and our intention to make it available free for outdoor ed,” Erickson said. “Just to grow up in this valley and have that opportunity to go up to places like that and camp with your classmates can be life changing.”

In addition to Aspen Middle School’s annual visits, Basalt High School, Colorado Rocky Mountain School and Marble Charter have all brought students up to the site, while others have taken advantage of the fairly quiet summer and winter seasons (there’s a cabin on the property, as well) to offer teacher training or retreats there.

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To ease access, the Land Trust has removed dead and dangerous trees, installed wall tents and generally improved the site.

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