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Kebler Pass

Kebler Pass National Conservation Area
Dyke National Protection Area
Beckwith National Protection Area
Carbon Whetstone National Protection Area
Agencies: USFS
Counties: Gunnison
Nearest City of Town: Crested Butte
Location: along the Kebler Pass Road from Crested Butte to near Paonia
The Kebler Pass corridor from Crested Butte to Paonia is one of the most beautiful and significant scenic byways in Colorado. The Kebler Pass gravel road treats thousands of gawking visitors to a splendid experience of one of the largest aspen forests in the world. Scientists have conjectured that some of the aspen trees in this forest could be amongst the largest organisms on Earth.
The corridor has faced serious development threats in the past, including a giant tailings pile and high-tension electric powerline proposed for the currently shelved Mt. Emmons molybdenum mining project in Crested Butte, and a massive logging project proposed for the now defunct Louisiana Pacific waferwood mill in Olathe. In addition, various tourism-industry boosters have long dreamed of paving the quiet, backcountry road.
In 1980, when Congress enlarged the West Elks Wilderness to the south of Kebler Pass and created the Raggeds Wilderness to the north, the legislators chose to keep the Wilderness boundaries far from the road to accommodate those potential projects. Today, few people would support such destructive development in this zone. This is land that clearly deserves protection.
The CPP proposes encompassing the full corridor in a National Conservation Area, ensuring that no mining, powerlines, or new water projects would occur and limiting logging to small-scale, habitat-improving projects. Future generations of travelers on the roads within this area will continue to enjoy its splendor.
The area is very popular for bicycling and that would be curtailed by an environmental coalition’s proposal to make the area Wilderness. Furthermore, the Wilderness proposal by its nature cannot protect the roaded elements of the corridor. The CPP proposes three National Protection Areas within the NCA to further protect some of the roadless sections.
Within the NCA, at its far eastern end, just outside of Crested Butte, sits Mt. Emmons, which has within it one of the nation’s largest untapped deposits of molybdenum. The citizens of Crested Butte have long and vigorously fought proposals to mine this resource, which would radically change the community and necessarily cause a massive solid waste problem and probable water and air pollution. Their job has been made easier by the fact that molybdenum has become a much less scarce material in recent decades, forcing a price drop that makes the proposed mine uneconomical for the foreseeable future. Although much of Mt. Emmons is in private ownership, the NCA designation would further hinder, and perhaps block, any giant mining project here.