Farris takes Crystal River Valley Coal Basin fundraising effort to Snowmass

by Chad Abraham, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

A former Pitkin County commissioner today will go before the Snowmass Village Town Council for her final fundraising pitch in a valleywide campaign to restore an abandoned coal mine up the Crystal River Valley.
Dorothea Farris said she hopes to add $2,000 from Snowmass Village to the $23,000 she has raised so far for the Coal Basin restoration project.
The project outside of Redstone involves restoring the mine site where there are tailings dumps, refuse piles, and impacted roads and lands — all of which threaten the watershed.
“It’s so important to restore that land,” Farris said. “It’s such a mess.”
Farris’ group, the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association (CVEPA), has received $10,000 from Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers and Streams Board, $5,000 from Garfield County, $2,000 from Heartland Environmental Services and $2,000 from the towns of Basalt and Carbondale and the city of Aspen.
Partners, including the CVEPA, the U.S. Forest Service and the Coal Basin Cattlemen’s Association, this summer will use livestock, native grass seeds and a mixture of compost and bio-charcoal to restore a 2-acre plot of land owned by the Forest Service. It involves spreading native grass seed, covering it with straw and hay and then bringing in cattle to work the organic material and seed into the soil.
A similar project worked wonders for restoring the Hope Mine in the Castle Creek Valley, Farris said.
In that area, “nothing had grown for years,” she said.
But by mimicking small forest fires, which add charcoal to the soil, and monitoring how long cattle graze in the area, plant life has thrived again in the Hope Mine area in past few years. The Coal Basin goal is an overall improvement in the health of the Crystal River watershed, Farris said.
The cattlemen’s association is interested in the project because it can dispel the notion that cows do nothing but trample the terrain they’re occupying.
“They want to show the cows are not hurting the land but really are doing some good,” Farris said.
When she went before Aspen City Council in March, she said she had already received a donation from the town of Snowmass Village and that Aspen’s funding brought her to her fundraising goal of $21,200.
On Friday, Farris said that was a mistake as she had not yet approached Snowmass officials. And the city’s money put her at the minimum amount needed for the work planned for this summer, which will be the project’s second year, she said. Anything above the minimum will be devoted to extra lands that can be reclaimed through the restoration effort.
The CVEPA, created 45 years ago in response to an effort to develop a ski area in Marble, has long had its eye on repairing what the mine did to Coal Basin, Farris said.
She said she has enlisted multiple communities because she believes the mining era affected the entire valley. Farris said if Snowmass Village found a mine dump, for instance, she wouldn’t hesitate to approach Redstone for financial assistance.
“This is about sensitive stewardship awareness,” Farris said. “I think Snowmass recognizes that.”