High Elk Corridor
What We’re Doing
Protecting scenic backcountry from development that impedes natural habitats, water quality, scientific research, and recreation.
Preserving lands while keeping the communities they serve top of mind.
Under dazzling blue skies by day and Colorado’s starry skies by night, lies the High Elk Corridor. Nestled in the heart of the Colorado Rockies, between Aspen and Crested Butte, this sub-alpine valley system provides unparalleled opportunities, including long-term biological research, recreational activities, and historic landscape preservation.
The High Elk Corridor featured 6,000 acres of privately owned patented mining claims and inholdings within the White River National Forest. Private ownership can limit opportunities for research, recreation, forest management, and wildlife habitat conservation. And in a state where property values are constantly climbing, the threat of development is ever present, causing concern among High Elk Community members. The corridor is important not only for recreation and habitat opportunities but also for its status as one of the nation’s preeminent outdoor research laboratories, the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL).
Trust for Public Land partnered with many organizations to help the community protect this land. Together we assembled public and private funds and strategically acquired the private backcountry land parcels. Together with our partners, we protected public trailheads, scenic vistas, and places of scientific importance.
What was once an outdated and patchwork of 19th-century mines has been restored to a serene and spectacular landscape. Today the High Elk is valued not for silver but for its wildflowers, waterfalls, wide-open views, and value to science.
Scientific Research: Rocky Mountain Biological Lab (RMBL, pronounced “rumble” by locals) houses its headquarters at Gothic Mining Camp in the High Elk Corridor. RMBL is one of the finest places to conduct long-term environmental and climate change-related studies and experiments.
Ian Billick, RMBL Lab Director, declares High Elk Corridor as the perfect research site due to its relatively pristine environment and 75 years of research records revealing changes among humans and the planet. David Inouye, a professor at the University of Maryland, claims RMBL is probably the most productive lab in North America regarding terrestrial ecological research.
Recreation: Each year, thousands of locals, tourists, and nature lovers visit this area from Crested Butte, Marble, or Aspen to view waist-high wildflowers, marmots, and hummingbirds. They take in waterfalls, peaks, and historical sites such as the Crystal Mill (arguably one of the most photographed landmarks in the state). Outdoor enthusiasts enjoy mountain biking on the corridor’s many miles of trails.
“It’s one of the most beautiful places in the county, and it’s an area people are using more and more for recreation these days,” shares Jim Starr, former Gunnison County commissioner and Crested Butte Land Trust board member.
Preservation: Preserving the High Elk Corridor means preserving world-famous lush meadows, towering peaks, majestic rivers, and abundant mountainside forests. It also means protection for wildlife such as elk and the endangered Canadian Lynx.
“This is a key area valued for its scenic beauty and habitat,” says Don Carroll, deputy supervisor of White River National Forest. “If TPL ® hadn’t acted, there’s no doubt we would have seen development here. It is so important to protect areas that offer such important research opportunities.”