Finally. One of the most infamous developer quotes of all time has made its way into print for widespread distribution and enjoyment. The quote: “We are trying to develop the valley as God would have if he’d had the money.”
The developer being quoted was John Zakovich, a partner in an early 1970s plan to turn the former ghost town of Marble and the upper end of the Crystal River Valley into a major ski resort. The quote appears in “Protecting a River and Saving a Valley: The Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association” by retired history professor/author F. Darrell Munsell (published by Light of the Moon, Inc.).
The 127-page book shines light on a plan that would have had disastrous impacts on the Marble area’s environment, wildlife, way of life and just about everything else that makes the still-tiny town pretty much the opposite of Aspen. The book also gives credit to an environmental group, founded by women in 1972, whose tireless work and numerous road trips to Gunnison led to a landmark Forest Service decision.
“ … This book is a must-read for everyone who values a positive quality of life in a part of the world that is under siege from developers, changing weather patterns and increasing numbers of curious visitors,” writes author Larry Meredith in the book’s forward.
This book, in my view, didn’t receive as much ink as it deserves when it was first published in 2018. So here we go.
“Protecting a Valley and Saving a River” chronicles the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association’s role in four major campaigns: Fighting the proposed Marble ski area, opposing the West Divide water diversion project (that would have included a 300-foot tall dam and reservoir just south of Redstone), monitoring and working with the federal government on Coal Basin reclamation efforts near Redstone, and lobbying the federal government to place a Wild and Scenic designation on the Crystal River. The book gives long overdue credit to CVEPA’s three founders – Paula Mechau, Marge Orlovsky and Esther Fogel Neal – and later, Mary Lilly.
The book also credits two attorneys, J.E. DeVilbiss and Bill Jochems, for their work on the legal end of the Marble ski area battle.
Today, the Marble ski area plan is beyond most folks’ imagination. Just as crazy, the Gunnison county commissioners approved it.
The grand-grand plan would have created a ski/recreation triangle with Aspen, Crested Butte and Marble as its key points. Marble Ski Area Inc. (founded in 1970), would have installed 12 ski lifts and two gondolas, and built a Marble Village consisting of condominiums, a lodge/hotel, retail shops, taverns, restaurants and a convention center. Tennis courts and a golf course were also planned.
The upshot from the ski area proposal was it spurred Marble to reincorporate as a town in order to oppose the project. During a swearing in ceremony for the first town council Marble had seen in more than 30 years, Colorado Lt. Gov. John Vanderhoof exhorted them to use their planning and zoning authority to “preserve the beauty of the Marble area.” As the book states, “ … their control over water usage and sewage service would give them considerable leverage in thwarting or directing the MSA developers.”
By the mid-1970s, the original MSA partners were forced out and the company went bankrupt. Part of the Crystal River Environmental Protection Association’s legacy: By insisting that the developers conduct a comprehensive Environmental Impact Study of the entire area, it “… led to a landmark decision that the Forest Service must consider impacts on private property adjacent to ski developments rather than just on forest land.”
“Protecting a Valley and Saving a River” also contains 10 pages of political cartoons by the late Jack Roberts that lampoon the West Divide board of directors and others associated with the special district that was created to claim water rights on the Crystal River, and use that water for agricultural, industrial (in this case oil shale) and residential uses in the Rifle area.
The book contains a four page index with dozens of names (Dorothea Farris, Michael Kinsley, Pat Noel and others) and 12 pages of footnotes.
Munsell lives just south of Carbondale. He is professor emeritus, West Texas A&M University, and is the author of several books on historical subjects, including “From Redstone to Ludlow: John Cleveland Osgood’s Struggle Again the United Mine Workers of America.”
For more information on “Protecting a River and Saving a Valley,” visit lightofthemooninc.com.
Lynn Burton is a semi-retired newspaper guy and lives in Carbondale.