Mountain Rescue Aspen closed Friday on a $1.6 million real estate deal for a 1-acre parcel across from the airport that is planned to house the search-and-rescue organization’s new headquarters.
MRA bought the Highway 82 property from Bill Hawkins, owner of Planted Earth, which has since closed its upper-valley business to concentrate on its Carbondale location.
The nonprofit backcountry rescue group approached Hawkins in June after he had been trying to sell the land and the business since the recession hit the area. MRA has been searching for a new home after outgrowing its 3,500-square-foot cabin on Main Street.
“The existing structure is far too small to accommodate the current team’s needs, much less the team vehicles that must be kept in a state of readiness 365 days per year,” an MRA press release says. “Almost all of the general team meetings in the last 10 years have been standing room only, with a few folks not even fitting in the room.”
Currently, vehicles and equipment are stored at MRA members’ homes, local streets, the U.S. Forest Service’s parking lot near the S-curves and on the Zupancis property next to the courthouse. At the new site, a 6,000-square-foot garage would house three rescue vehicles, six snowmobiles, five all-terrain vehicles and the trailers that carry them, plus a lot of gear used in backcountry missions.
The all-volunteer MRA was organized in 1965 and now operates under the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office to cover roughly 1,000 square miles.
In 2011, it received a $1.5 million grant from Oklahoma resident Lynda Cameron, who was rescued by an MRA team after her father’s plane crashed in the Capitol Creek Valley during a snowstorm on Nov. 27, 1977. Her father, C.B. Cameron, was killed in the crash; Lynda and four others, including her mother, brother and the pilot, were rescued.
The new facility, planned to be 13,000 square feet, will be named after C.B. Cameron.
Fundraising by MRA is ongoing for the building’s construction, said Jeff Edelson, the group’s operations director, in an interview.
“We’re now raising the last bit of money,” he said. “But we had raised enough to move forward to this point with the project.
“This was the big step.”
Fundraising opportunities include naming rights for certain rooms in the new facility, Edelson said.
MRA has hired Charles Cunniffe Architects and Stan Clauson Associates to design the new building.
“The design process is driven by the need to fit modern MRA operations, training, educational outreach, vehicles and equipment within the constraints of the contracted property...” the press release says.
The land-use application could go before the Pitkin County commissioners in late January or early February, Edelson said. MRA is currently going through a rezoning process with the county to make the land suitable for a public institution. MRA hopes to break ground this spring, with construction estimated to last a year.
The site is adjacent to the BMC West lumberyard, a 4.7-acre parcel that was purchased by the city of Aspen in 2007 for $18.25 million for affordable housing purposes.
Part of the design for the MRA new facility includes a wood-pitched roof to mimic the Main Street cabin, Edelson said. The entrance area would be a museum of sorts, with old climbing equipment, newspaper articles about MRA’s operations and team histories.
The idea is “to capture that history and display it for anyone who comes to the facility,” he said. “We’re obviously very excited.”