Saving and Stewarding Long Lake

Saving a Community Treasure

Easily accessible from town, Long Lake has been a favorite summer recreating spot for decades. As a unique high country lake that is often warm enough for a brisk dip in the summer, Long Lake became the “community swimming hole” without an active steward to provide signage and trail maintenance along with education about adjacent private property boundaries, trash removal, and responsible recreation.

In February 2020, the Crested Butte Land Trust completed a land exchange that protected 120 acres of one of Crested Butte’s most popular open spaces, Long Lake. The project ensured public access to the Lake, added 630 acres to the Gunnison National Forest near the Fossil Ridge Wilderness area, and generated $2.6 million for affordable housing projects in Gunnison County. “But, how?!” you might ask. Read the full story below!

Some Background

Long Lake, officially named Meridian Lake, is a vestige of the Gunnison Valley’s glacial past. This natural lake, located just 2 miles as a crow flies from the Town of Crested Butte, was formed during the last ice age when glaciers traveled down the Slate River, Oh Be Joyful Creek, and Washington Gulch drainages. The glacier that formed in Oh Be Joyful Creek pressed into the Slate River glacier to create a prominent moraine ridge between the Slate River and Washington Gulch. This ridge slumped once the glaciers receded and created Long Lake. With no springs or streams feeding this lake, it is recharged by annual snowmelt from its small watershed. 

One half of the lakeshore is owned by the Allen Ranch, a multi-generational family operation which has generously provided access for the recreating public. The other half of the lakeshore was a 120-acre island of Gunnison National Forest surrounded by private property. In the early 2000s, this National Forest property was proposed to fund the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act via public auction. This idea was met with local outcry that Long Lake was too important to give up. The 120-acre property sits adjacent to 1,000 acres of conserved open space, provides critical big game habitat, and is an important corridor for ranching in the Slate River and Washington Gulch drainages.

Fast forward to 2016, and divesting public lands was again in the spotlight. Having heard the public sentiment to save Long Lake, the Crested Butte Land Trust negotiated with the Gunnison National Forest for the protection of Long Lake.

The Exchange Mechanics

Protecting these 120 acres on Long Lake required private property of equal value be traded to the Gunnison National Forest. The Forest Service had been in ongoing negotiations with the Trust for Public Land to acquire a 614-acre inholding adjacent to the Fossil Ridge Wilderness. The Land Trust agreed to purchase the Fossil Ridge property which equaled the value of Long Lake when combined with the Land Trust’s Copley Lake parcel. This meant the Land Trust needed to raise the full purchase price of Fossil Ridge in order to protect Long Lake.

The purchase price for Fossil Ridge would be the Land Trust’s largest purchase to date, $2.9 million, but this property came with big opportunities. This acreage was donated to the Gunnison National Forest by long time locals Judy and Butch Clark, with the stipulation that the proceeds of this public land conservation be designated to the Valley Housing Fund (VHF). VHF partners with local municipalities to fund affordable housing developments throughout the Gunnison Valley. This funding mechanism gave conservation supporters and community development advocates a shared purpose.

Through the 18-month-long campaign, the Land Trust and the Valley Housing Fund collaborated in grant proposals and fundraising efforts. Locals concerned about affordable housing rallied to purchase ski chairs from Vail Resorts to support the effort, and local municipalities that did not have a stake in the future of Long Lake stepped up to help fund the project.

Stewarding Long Lake for Generations to Come

Since acquiring the southern 120 acres at Long Lake in 2020, the Crested Butte Land Trust has formed a coalition of community partners engaged in planning and implementing tools to manage recreation at Long Lake. Over the next few years, improvements to trail placement and signage will come to fruition, as well as active mitigation of human caused erosion from numerous social trails on steep hillsides.

The future of Long Lake will include modern, sustainable trail design, clear signage regarding where the public can recreate, and a more natural and better maintained resource for all to enjoy. We are so grateful to everyone who helped save Long Lake, and we look forward to continuing to care for this community treasure for generations to come!

Thank You for Recreating Responsibly!

Click below to learn special rules and best practices on each Land Trust owned and managed property

More Information

If you have questions, comments or concerns about Long Lake planning & management, please contact Stewardship Director Jon Mugglestone at or 970-349-1206.


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