Education center at Maloit Park moves forward
The Eagle County School Board has approved a preliminary plan for the project proposed by the 28-year-old nonprofit organization, which is proposing to build the Cross Creek Adventure Education Center, a 6,000-square-foot lodge and three 500-square-foot cabins on an acre of land in the park.
The organization, which serves about 2,500 children and youth every year, needs the approval of the school board because the school district owns the land. If the project is approved by the county and the school district, Meet the Wilderness would lease the land.
“This new building will ensure the continuation of our programs,” said Jim Himmes, founder of Meet the Wilderness.
This would be the organization’s first permanent base of operations since the program started in 1974. To run its programs in the summer, Meet the Wilderness has been using local schools. The problem, Himmes said, is when the school year starts and the weather turns bad.
Some residents of Minturn, however, oppose the center.
“I value Meet the Wilderness’ programs,” Wendy Satsky, said a resident of Minturn and a teacher at Minturn Middle School. “But I oppose the plan as proposed. In the past years, we’ve been trying to pursue no more development at Maloit Park.
“I asked the school board to conduct an environmental study on the area,” she added.
One of the concerns had been if the town of Minturn would be able to provide water to the development.
“If the use isn’t increased beyond what is proposed, Minturn will have the ability to serve the increased water usage,” said Minturn Mayor Earle Bidez.
The Minturn Town Council also has determined that the use proposed for the center is compatible with the master plan developed for the park and that it “will be a benefit to the community”.
The education center also is in agreement with the Maloit Park Master Plan, approved by the school board in July 2001. The 10 priorities for use of school district land include providing for support services and supporting community values and interests, such as open space and recreational needs.
“We need to educate each child for success and that comes in many packages,” said school board member Louise Funk. “As this community grows and develops, eventually I see this center becoming an alternative education site and vocational center.”
School Board President Barbara Schierkolk voted against the project, saying no other entity but the school district should be able to build on that land.
“The community trusts us with these lands for the public school children,” Schierkolk said. “Twenty years down the road, there could be a need to build a school there.”
Funk said she would never vote to put another school on that property.
“I’d like to build a state-of-the-art high school at the Berry Creek 5th for 1,000 students,” she said. “We don’t live in Detroit or New York City, and one of the things that makes us unique is that we live in the mountains, so why not build on what we have?”
School board member Connie Kincaid-Strahan, who represents Minturn, also voted against the project, saying the Maloit Park property should benefit not just one group. Kincaid-Strahan referred to two letters the school district received from the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens and the Gore Range Natural Science School, both nonprofit organizations that have shown interest in sharing space at the park with Meet the Wilderness.
The letters arrived the day previous the Wednesday meeting, when the school board met and vote on the project.
“My fellow board members said the letters came in the 11th hour,” Kincaid-Strahan said. “I think we should have tabled that vote until we heard the other groups. The Maloit Park property shouldn’t be monopolized by one entity.”
Himmes said Meet the Wilderness is willing to share the space with the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens in Vail and the Gore Range Natural Science School in Red Cliff.
Kim Langmaid, executive director of the Gore Range Natural Science School said the school needs to base of operations closer to the Eagle Valley communities it serves.
“We’d love for them to come in,” Himmes said. “We will work together in terms of the scope of limits we have.”
Meet the Wilderness’ programs range from a one-day team-building program to a six-day wilderness backpacking program. The programs serve about 2,000 locals; the rest come from Garfield, Summit and Pitkin counties and from Denver and Chicago.
“If we get approved, we will develop it as green as possible,” Himmes said.
Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.