High Country Citizens’ Alliance

In 1979 I was choosing among Colorado towns for my next residence and developed three, clear-in-my-mind criteria: cross-country skiing out my backyard, good community, and exciting environmental politics. Crested Butte was the only such place in Colorado in 1979. I first visited in March of that year and was psyched to see the opposition to the giant molybdenum mine proposed by Amax corporation. Crested Butte also hosted a statewide conference of people working to get Congress to pass a Wilderness bill.

Throughout my 21 years in Crested Butte I helped the local environmental group, High Country Citizens’ Alliance. At first, I was the radical, young man with wild hair who wore lots of political buttons. I was too hot to represent the organization, but its leaders let me represent HCCA at the statewide environmental coalition, Colorado Open Space Council (now known as Conservation Colorado). I matured and, after we won the battle over the mine, the older leadership retired and I joined the board.

We had many successes. We successfully blocked the proposed molybdenum mine that would have decimated Mt. Emmons right next to town. We reduced the scope of a program that would have clearcut thousands of acres of aspen forests. Through a 16-year Colorado Water Court legal battle, we stopped Front Range cities from taking the water of the Gunnison River over to the lawns of suburban Denver. We fostered better livestock grazing stewardship nationwide through our collaboration with ranchers. We blocked the expansion of the CB ski area onto the neighboring, south-facing, Snodgrass Mountain. We protected thousands of acres of national forest as Wilderness.

I believe that our one big failure was that we did not convince county government to get a handle on the explosive, damaging sprawl created by wealthy people building trophy houses everywhere. The residences built within the two towns, Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte, are less the problem, though big houses are a global issue with their huge consumption of resources. In Gunnison County, it’s the far-flung, widespread dwellings built on 35-acre lots. They built roads into and occupied formerly undeveloped wildlife habitat. Tens of thousands of acres were degraded. The problem persists and grows, aided and abetted by a state law that prohibits county government from regulating subdivisions when the parcels are 35 acres or larger.

HCCA later changed its name to High Country Conservation Advocates and remains a solid force for protecting the environment of the Gunnison Basin.

Here’s a sampling of my HCCA work: