Thirty years ago, Crested Butte was an emerging resort town with ranching roots, experiencing a new wave of growth as recreationalists and naturalists flocked to this outdoor haven. A group of individuals, many involved in the town government, saw a need to save their paradise from over-development and started a powerful movement to protect and preserve these lands. Almost immediately, protecting the Slate River Valley – home to sensitive wetlands, open recreation spaces, and uninterrupted views of Paradise Divide – became a priority. “We were meeting at Dan Jones’ house, sitting at his dining room table, and could see from his window the wetlands up the Slate River Valley. I don’t know about the rest of the group, but that did it for me personally, seeing the view of those wetlands and wanting to preserve that valley,” says John Hess, one of the Land Trust’s founders.
Using the Town of Crested Butte’s real estate transfer tax funds, one of the Crested Butte Land Trust’s very first projects was to acquire five small parcels of the Slate River wetlands corridor between the town and Mt Crested Butte. These separate parcels, now one large property called the Confluence Parcel, protect important wetlands, wildlife migration corridors, and the Paradise Divide viewshed between the Towns of Crested Butte and Mt Crested Butte forever.
Not long after, in 1993, the Land Trust played a key role in acquiring a 160-acre ranch abutting the Town by connecting the Town with the Trust for Public Land for funding assistance. Now known as Town Ranch, the area includes the Crested Butte Community school, parks, and 175 acres of wetlands and open spaces. From horses grazing in the summer, wildlife migrating every fall, and Nordic skiers recreating in the winter, this parcel was a key piece of the ongoing protection of the Slate River corridor.
The acquisition and protection of the Confluence Parcel eventually led to the reopening of the Lower Loop trail system and the clean-up of the area after decades of mine waste were left unchecked. While we don’t think twice about heading out for a lunch ride along the Slate River today, community members in the early 2000’s faced a serious problem – the spontaneous combustion of coal and silver ore right next to one of town’s most popular trails. Then they realized mining waste lining the bottom of Peanut Lake was threatening to break the land barrier into the Slate River. Hundreds of volunteers, funders, and partners came together to turn the Lower Loop and Peanut Lake area into the beloved community treasure it is today.
The Lower Loop trail system connects the Town of Crested Butte to the Gunsight Bridge along the Slate River. The Gunsight Bridge area was once home to a large mining operation and later a pedestrian bridge that negatively impacted the river and its floodplain. Through multiple projects and with the help of many partners, the Land Trust has cleaned up waste from the mining days. We are also working on restoring the natural biodiversity of the area, and we replaced the old pedestrian bridge with one that is longer-lasting and friendlier to the river and its natural flows. We will continue to work hard to restore this area and ensure its ongoing care.
In 2023, the Crested Butte Land Trust completed a conservation easement with Suzanne and Bob Schutt to conserve 107 acres of the Slate River wetlands forever. Situated between Town Ranch and Riverbend, this parcel of land includes 1.2 miles of the Slate River and is defined by a mosaic of wet meadows, ponds, abundant wildlife, and water resources. This conservation easement also guarantees public access to the property’s winter Nordic ski trail and a portion of the Deli Trail connecting Town to neighborhoods and trails to the south.
Thank you to Suzanne and Bob Schutt for electing to conserve their land and helping fund this project and to the Town of Crested Butte, 1% for Open Space, the Gunnison Valley Land Preservation Fund, Great Outdoors Colorado, and individual donors for additional funding support.
The Slate River Valley is one of the most heavily used areas around Crested Butte. As a key part of our local wetlands, an important wildlife refuge, a beautiful scenic corridor, and a beloved home to local trails, this Valley will be forever cared for by the Crested Butte Land Trust and our partners.
To address the challenge of integrating the varied needs and desires of many different users along the Slate, we have developed a multi-stakeholder plan through a collaborative working group called the Slate River Working Group (SRWG). The SRWG is made up of 18 stakeholders who work together to identify and address river-specific management opportunities present in a 10.5-mile reach of the Upper Slate River, from the Oh-Be-Joyful campground to the north, to the Skyland Bridge to the south. From our very first purchase of the Confluence Parcel to some of our most recent projects, we are dedicated to its protection, maintenance, and enjoyment through trail maintenance, streambank mitigation, and more.
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