An Aspen conservation nonprofit wants permission from Pitkin County to establish a low-impact nature education and camping area near Ashcroft on a plot of land originally approved for a single-family home.
Just don’t call it a campground.
“It is not a campground,” Chris Lane, CEO of Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, said late last week. “That’s the concern we have with the public. It’s less a campground than a property we walk on.”
The project would be built on a 10.5-acre parcel of land located near the intersection of Castle Creek Road and Express Creek Road, about 400 yards from another ACES facility in the area called Catto Center at Toklat, according to Lane and a project overview submitted to Pitkin County. The site also is near the intersection of Castle Creek and Express Creek Road, according to the documents.
The property, owned by Boulder environmentalist Tom Barron, was previously approved for a single-family home and caretaker’s unit, according to the land-use application and a conservation easement filed in Pitkin County. The easement, signed by Barron in December and held by the Aspen Valley Land Trust, calls for the land to remain pristine in nature in perpetuity, and agrees to the ACES project.
“Landowner intends to convey the property to the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, who will use the property for educational and conservation programs,” the easement states.
According to ACES’ land-use application, the property will be used for school-based environmental classes, children’s and adult naturalist field schools, hikes or programs for groups holding retreats at the Catto Center at Toklat, and snowshoe tours.
The U.S. Forest Service granted a private road easement and driveway across its land to the property in 2001, and with the permission of Pitkin County, a driveway was constructed in 2009, according to the application.
ACES wants permission to build a small fire pit at a “hub” area at the end of the driveway, install a subgrade, 50- to 100-gallon water tank, a small lockable gear box, a bear-resistant food locker, a temporary awning system or shelter, and seven removable tent platforms in an aspen grove where the home was set to be built, the application states.
The setup also would include a portable toilet similar to “groovers” used on boating trips, and vehicle trips to the property would be limited, Lane said.
The property would be closed unless an ACES program is happening and all guests would have to be accompanied by an ACES staff member, according to the application. Dogs would not be allowed.
All except the water tank would be removed at the end of the summer season, Lane said.
“There would be virtually no impact on the land,” he said. “The donor does not want a lot of people on the land. It’s all for education.”
Group sizes would be “typically fewer than 20 and no more than 25,” according to the application. Groups would visit every other week for a couple of nights between June and August, said Jim Kravitz, naturalist programs director at ACES.
Lane and Kravitz said they want to avoid using the word “campground” to describe the project because the word connotes infrastructure like pavement, bathrooms, permanent fire rings and tent platforms and constant activity.
“This is an incredible place for education,” Kravitz said, noting the property features a spring, a beaver lodge and elk activity. “Our bread and butter is teaching kids around this wonderful place. It’s quite an opportunity to be able to consider this (project).”
Barron sold two mining claims on the back of Aspen Mountain last month to the Pitkin County Open Space Program for $1.25 million. That purchase, which extinguished development for an 8,000-square-foot house on the site, will allow a more accessible trail to the nearby 54-acre Stirling Cooper Open Space.
Pitkin County commissioners were set to address the ACES development application Wednesday, though the board continued the application until April.