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Even if you’ve never visited the Crystal Mill, you’ve probably seen photographs. The picturesque 127-year-old, rickety wooden structure sits on an outcrop, overlooking the Crystal River just outside of Marble, Colorado. Surrounded by aspen groves, the Mill has remained one of Colorado’s most visited western landmarks and leaf-peeping destinations for the last 50 years. But as early as June 2021, the Mill could be listed, sold, and demolished unless $10 million is raised to save it.
Since mid-July, the newly established Crystal Mill Foundation has worked to raise enough funds to purchase the Mill, the rock it sits on, and the surrounding area from the current owners, a local family. The foundation’s president, Heather Leigh, says if they can collect $5 million by the end of 2020, the foundation can purchase the Mill and the structure will be permanently protected from future sales. The second $5 million, which Leigh says can be raised later, will be used to manage the Mill by providing proper restroom facilities and drinking water for visitors, and a comprehensive education program about the Mill’s mining history. As of this month, the foundation has collected less than $1 million.
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“We need help. We are running out of time,” Leigh says. “The big, million-dollar donors that we were so hopeful for are just not coming out of the woodwork at all.”
Leigh says she was counting on large donations from private donors and local nonprofit organizations, but hasn’t had any success. “Every day I put out 25 to 50 emails, phone calls, text messages—anything I can think of to try and connect to people,” she says. “There are more than 60-plus billionaires with homes in Aspen, and we haven’t even reached $1 million. We’re just shocked.”
The Crystal Mill dates back to 1892, when it was constructed as a powerhouse for the Sheep Mountain Mining and Tunnel Company. While the Mill was in operation until 1917, its site is known to be one of the most photographed places in Colorado.
Back in 1985, the Mill was added to the National Register of Historic Places by a member of the family. The accolade, however, is mostly symbolic—utilized for tax incentives—and doesn’t necessarily add protection to listed sites. If the Crystal Mill Foundation is able to purchase the structure from the current owners, Leigh says it will ensure the Mill’s long-term protection.
“If you would have told me as a child that this would become such an iconic, Colorado structure, I would have laughed at you, but now I see the importance of keeping it for future generations,” says Christopher Cox, the Mill’s current owner. “It has outgrown me. I’m hoping that the community can come together, and that it can be saved. If the foundation can take it on, it can be kept and preserved in perpetuity.”
Leigh worked with the Cox family’s lawyers to negotiate the cost of the Mill’s value. While $5 million might seem high for a decommissioned powerhouse, Leigh says that as a tourist attraction, local businesses benefit from consistent foot traffic to the Mill.
“All these businesses are making money off of the Mill being here,” she says. “There’s restaurants, hotels, Airbnbs, jeep rentals, tours—that’s half a dozen businesses that could go out of business if the Mill wasn’t there.” In addition to supporting tourism revenue, the Crystal Mill Foundation hopes to preserve Colorado’s mining history.
The negotiated price between the foundation and the family is void at the end of the year. According to Leigh, the owners could put the Mill up for sale as early as January 2021. “The time is long overdue.”
Get Involved: To help save the Crystal Mill Foundation, donate here or send a check to Crystal Mill Foundation, PO Box 27434, Lakewood, CO 80227.