Conserving the North Pole Basin

North pole basin crested butte schofield
Photo: Dawn Reeder

The Crested Butte Land Trust achieved a long-standing conservation goal on June 28, 2013 when it finalized the preservation of the North Pole Basin, with the help of its partners the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab and the Crested Butte Mountain Resort.

Located next to the Schofield Townsite, the North Pole Basin is distinctive because of its importance to larger conservation efforts as well as for science.  For conservationists, it complements more than 40 years of efforts in the Schofield area, and provides an irreplaceable bridge of protection between two wilderness areas.

The North Pole Basin is located directly north of The Nature Conservancy’s Mexican Cut Preserve, a scientifically productive 300 acre parcel managed by RMBL. The Basin creates significant scientific opportunities, and serves as a complement to RMBL research done at the Mexican Cut.  That research has supported 19 Master’s/PhD theses, 66 scientific publications, and numerous projects for training undergraduates. Research on acid rain at the Mexican Cut was responsible, in part, for the inclusion of provisions to protect air in the western US during the revision of the Clean Air Act in the early 1990s.

“We were very fortunate that the landowner was conservation-minded.  And with the Lab willing to go the extra mile to make this agreement successful, it is truly a remarkable partnership”, said Bill Reimer, Land Trust Board President.

This $2 million project was completed due to the diligent efforts and collaboration of public and private funding partners. Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) was the lead funder. GOCO was created by Colorado voters in 1992 to use Colorado Lottery revenues to preserve, protect, enhance and help manage the state’s wildlife, parks, rivers, trails and open spaces.  GOCO receives about half of the lottery’s proceeds annually -$57 million is Fiscal Year 2012.  Since its inception, GOCO has funded nearly 3,500 projects statewide.

Local funders included the Gunnison Valley Land Preservation Board and 1% for Open Space, who made significant contributions to the project.  In addition to generous private donations, the project was also funded by the Gates Family Foundation.

One of the goals of preservation was to open access to the property to the public.  The striking topography of the North Pole provides incredible cascading waterfalls, and alpine meadows are filled each summer with a dizzying array of wildflowers.  The Land Trust will be responsible for building a new hiking only single track trail to the property.  Because of the steep terrain and heavy timber, it will likely take three years to design and build this trail.

In the meantime, hikers can access the property on foot only –  due to the sensitivity of research, no dogs, bicycles or cars are allowed.  Hike up the private access road leading west from Forest Service Road 317, just north of the West Maroon trail.  There is very limited parking along the county right of way.

For more information, contact Ann at the Crested Butte Land Trust at 970.349.1206 or the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory at 970.349.7420.

Photo: Dawn Reeder