Situated between the Maroon Bells-Snowmass and Ragged Wildernesses, in an area once valued for silver mining, the High Elk Corridor is a nearly pristine, sub-alpine area protected through unique land preservation efforts. The area includes unparalleled biological research opportunities, wildlife habitat and migration corridors, critical watersheds, and one of the most popular recreational areas in Colorado. The Crested Butte Land Trust has pursued conservation efforts in the High Elk Corridor with help from local governments and both private and public supporters for decades. Ensuring that these invaluable landscapes can be enjoyed and preserved for generations is a top priority for the Land Trust.
Efforts to save the High Elk Corridor began in 1997 when the Land Trust partnered with Crested Butte Mountain Resort and Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL) to purchase 74 acres of the Schofield Townsite, located between the towns of Gothic and Marble in the High Elk Corridor. During this initial acquisition, it became clear that other privately owned parcels within the corridor were at risk for development.
Together with a consortium of land trusts, local governments, and individuals, the Land Trust helped form the Friends of the High Elk Corridor, a group focused on purchasing and conserving inholdings in the corridor.
In 2002, the Trust for Public Land, a nationwide nonprofit, joined the efforts to raise money to purchase and conserve as many acres of the over 6,000 acres in the High Elk Corridor as possible. Today, the Land Trust continues to work with landowners and have identified 2,500 acres as top priority for investment due to development risk and biological sensitivity.
Located next to the Schofield Townsite is North Pole Basin, distinctive for its importance to larger conservation efforts and scientific research. The Basin is also directly north of and complements research done at The Nature Conservancy’s Mexican Cut Preserve, a 300-acre parcel managed by RMBL. Research on acid rain at 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. In 2013 and with the help of RMBL and Crested Butte Mountain Resort, the Land Trust made the first step in completing the long-awaited conservation goal of preserving North Pole Basin.
This $2 million project was made possible thanks to the diligent efforts and collaboration of public and private funding partners. The lead funder, Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), was created by voters in 1992 to use Colorado Lottery revenues to preserve, protect, enhance, and manage the state’s wildlife, parks, rivers, trails, and open spaces. Local funders included the Gunnison Valley Land Preservation Board and 1% for Open Space, both of which made significant contributions to the project. The project was also funded by the Gates Family Foundation as well as other generous private donations. Four years later, an additional 7.75 acres of prime habitat were added to conservation efforts in the North Pole Basin area through the purchase of the Discovery Lode mining claim. Today, the North Pole Basin property is owned by RMBL with a conservation easement held by the Land Trust.
Continuing our efforts to conserve land in the High Elk Corridor, the Land Trust acquired two mining claim parcels at the peak of Cinnamon Mountain in 2021. This peak along the Paradise Divide skyline is a first summit for many in the Crested Butte area. In total, the mining claims are 20.66 acres of private property that have been accessed by the public for generations without official legal access. The Land Trust acquired these parcels to ensure the summit of Cinnamon will be open to the public forever and that no more development can occur in this sensitive environment.
In addition to creating traditional conservation easements with private and public landowners, the Land Trust also works to acquire backcountry inholdings, like the 7.23 acre Broadaxe claim purchased in 2023, that belong in the public trust and help to create undisturbed, continuous healthy landscapes.
The High Elk Corridor is extremely important to local wildlife habitat, critical watersheds, long term biological research, and recreational opportunities for the public. The Land Trust continues to monitor and care for our properties on an annual basis while also acting on new conservation opportunities as they appear.
Receive our monthly Mountain Memo e-newsletter filled with info & updates about the places you love.