Protecting the slopes of Mount Champion

December 1, 2023-

The Wilderness Land Trust recently acquired 275 acres on the slopes of Mount Champion, just outside Colorado’s Mt. Massive Wilderness.

Less than an hour from the Roaring Fork Valley, locals and visitors have long been drawn to Independence Pass for its panoramic vistas and recreation opportunities for all ages and abilities. Mount Champion stands tall above the pass and, while the area is a popular destination, much of the peak’s south and west faces have been privately owned and at risk of development.

This month Amy Margerum Berg, owner of 275-acres on the west face of Mount Champion, generously donated the property to The Wilderness Land Trust to be subsequently transferred to public ownership in San Isabel National Forest. The property stretches from the North Fork of Lake Creek almost to the summit and includes remnants of the Champion Mine which was active from 1907-1940 mining gold, silver, copper, and lead.

“My late husband, Charles “Chuck” McLean, had the foresight to purchase these mining claims with the intent of protecting them from development. My son, Slater McLean, and I are so proud to be donating this land in his honor. He loved this land more than anything and spent hours exploring and hiking every inch of this spectacular backcountry wilderness. He would be very happy to know that the land will now be protected forever,” says Amy Margerum Berg.

The popular North Fork Lake Creek Trail leads hikers, backpackers, and horsemen into the 30,000-acre Mount Massive Wilderness and runs through the base of the donated property. Protecting the property under public ownership will ensure public access on the trail and mitigate the management and liability concerns that have recently cut off access to several of Colorado’s 14ers. The donation also protects important wildlife habitat, spanning from streamside riparian zones to alpine meadows above treeline, and is home to bighorn sheep.

The Champion Mine South property is just up the drainage from the 20-acre Blue Lake property which The Trust added to designated wilderness last year, removing the last remaining inholding in the Mount Massive Wilderness.

17 more Colorado properties protected!

November 17, 2023-

This week The Wilderness Land Trust completed the purchase of 17 properties totaling 162 in and around the Handies Peak and Red Cloud Wilderness Study Areas in Colorado. 

Near Silverton and Lake City, the Handies Peak and Red Cloud Wilderness Study Areas draw a wide variety of recreationists. Several of the acquired properties are located near the trailhead and trail to American Basin, one of the most iconic scenic vistas in Colorado. The Alpine Gulch Trail runs through another of the properties. These two wilderness study areas have been recommended for designation as wilderness and are included in the Colorado Wilderness Act which has been passed by the US House and awaits a Senate vote. In removing these potential future wilderness inholdings before the wilderness is designated, we are helping to avoid management conflicts, including for public access, before they arise.

The area also has significant ecological value. In addition to being home to Bighorn Sheep and the endangered Uncompahgre Fritillary Butterfly, some of the properties are within a one-mile corridor separating the proposed wilderness with the already designated Uncompahgre Wilderness. Safeguarding against development in these wildlife corridors is important in the landscape-scale protection needed to build climate resilience in our wild places. The Handies Peak WSA also includes the headwaters of the Gunnison River, Animas River, and Rio Grande, which supply drinking water to many downstream communities.

The properties are accessed by the Alpine Loop Backcountry Byway, a very popular OHV route that traverses 63 miles through the alpine on roads built during the mining boom, including over Cinnamon and Engineer Pass. The properties’ proximity to this popular motorized route put them at especially high risk for development. In fact, while visiting the properties our lands specialists saw several newly constructed cabins on other nearby private properties. Real estate prices in the area for these remote properties are considerably higher than in other parts of Colorado, and are only rising. All of this makes protecting these properties not only critical, but urgent. There are still many remaining private inholdings in the area which the Trust is pursuing. As we near the end of the year and its accompanied fundraising drive, your continued support will help move these 17 properties through the transfer process, placing them in public ownership for generations to come, and will help us to protect more private properties in the area.

A Tale of Two Emerald Lakes: Protecting Colorado’s Weminuche Wilderness

September 22, 2023-

The Trust recently completed the transfer of a 7.5-acre property on the slopes above Emerald Lake in the heart of Colorado’s Weminuche Wilderness. The project builds on two adjacent properties which the Trust already transferred into public ownership to be added to the wilderness area in 2020.

You may have heard of Emerald Lake as a popular backpacking destination in the Weminuche Wilderness. If you have, it’s almost certainly another Emerald Lake. Somewhat confusingly there are two named Emerald Lakes in the wilderness area (plus a Little Emerald Lake), and while both are accurately named for their emerald green waters, they are quite different. The Emerald Lake you may know is an hour’s drive and ten-mile hike from the small city of Durango. Sitting at 10,000 feet it is the third largest natural lake in Colorado and attracts backpackers ranging from solo hikers to families to groups of Boy and Girl Scouts. Local outfitters also guide horse packing trips to a site just above the lake. Generations of wilderness visitors have come to camp along Emerald Lake, some on their first backcountry tip, to see the vivid Milky Way reflected in its still waters, to listen to great horned owls calling through the treetops, and to watch the sun rise over the eastern ridge. 

A backpacker at the popular Emerald Lake (Photo by Alex Gulsby from

The Emerald Lake of the Trust’s recent transfer is some 13 miles west of the popular Emerald Lake and is 3% of the size. This Emerald Lake sits just above treeline at 11,300 feet and is surrounded by fragile alpine tundra. It’s about a mile and 1,500 ft climb through a dense drainage from the nearest trail and attracts very few and only the most intrepid of wilderness visitors. Alpine lakes like this serve as important biodiversity hotspots in the harsh high-elevation environment. The Trust’s work to protect even small properties in these areas conserves habitat for wildlife and rare plants like Heil’s Tansy Mustard.

The ‘other’ Emerald Lake viewed from the Trust’s recently transferred property

While very different, both Emerald Lakes play important roles in our national wilderness landscape. We need wild places where families can go to unplug and explore together, just as we need wild places void of popular trails and campsites where wildlife can move unencumbered by human presence. Visitation to our National Forests increased by more than 20 million between 2016 and 2019 and skyrocketed by another 18 million from just 2019 to 2020. This trend was even more pronounced in wilderness areas where visitation almost doubled in 2020 after four years of minimal growth. These statistics represent many more people, and more diverse people, having the opportunity for life-changing wilderness experiences for the first time. And that’s something to celebrate in its own right. But it can also put a strain on natural resources and managing agencies. In 2021 USFS crews picked up 397 contractor-sized trash bags of garbage in the Columbine Ranger District, where the Weminuche Wilderness is located, showing the need for education to teach all visitors, whether it is their first visit or hundredth visit, how to recreate responsibly and leave no trace.

Growing visitation also shows how important it is to protect places like the ‘other’ Emerald Lake from threats of development. Our work to protect these places, largely unknown and unglamorous in the public eye, is critical in balancing the needs of wilderness landscapes and ensuring a refuge for nature and nature alone.


Closing out 2022 with protection in the Weminuche, Wild Sky, and Henry M. Jackson Wilderness Areas!

December 30, 2022-

We are wrapping up 2022 celebrating successful protection of the wilderness you love in Colorado and Washington!

In the San Jan Mountains of Colorado, southeast of the small town of Silverton, the Weminuche Wilderness covers almost half a million acres of pristine alpine habitat, including three 14,000 ft peaks. We recently completed the purchase of three parcels known as the Great Western Lode, totaling 30.96 acres. Protected within the property is a fragile community of grasses, sedges, and dwarf plants that make up Colorado’s alpine tundra. The popular 9.3 mile Whitehead Trail runs through two of the Great Western Lode parcels, connecting the Continental Divide Trail, Highland Mary Trail, and Deer Park Trails. Prior to our purchase, public access on the Whitehead Trail was not secured through the private parcels, leaving these treasured recreation opportunities vulnerable. Thanks to your support, generations to come will have access to explore this rugged, breathtaking landscape!

The Trust recently completed the purchase of the 15.15-acre West Seattle Lode, our first acquisition in Washington’s Henry M. Jackson Wilderness. This rugged, glaciated landscape is home to the endangered Northern Spotted Owl, Cascade red fox, pika, wolverines, and Marbled Murrelet, a seabird that nests in old growth forests and alpine slopes. The property is on a steep slope that overlooks the Monte Cristo ghost town, the site of a gold and silver mining boom lasting from 1895-1912.

The 20-acre Jasperson Lode property was purchased by The Trust in 2017, and was recently transferred to public ownership. This newest addition to the Wild Sky Wilderness sits in a bowl on the south flank of the imposing Sheep Gap Mountain, just west of the Silver Creek drainage. With the property now incorporated into the wilderness, the patchwork of land management regulations and wildlife habitat has been removed, ensuring seamless conservation across the landscape.

Project Updates

August 12, 2022-

In the last two years, The Wilderness Land Trust has completed fundraising campaigns for several critical property acquisitions. Your generosity funded the purchase of these lands and covered acquisition costs. We are happy to provide you an update on the second phase of those projects, the transfer to public land.

Achenbach | Organ Mountains Wilderness, NM

WLT acquired 109 acres and secured trail access at the mouth of Achenbach Canyon in February 2021, protecting wildlife habitat and scenic views within the 500,000-acre wilderness. The Trust is grateful for our partnership with Friends of Organ Mountains Desert Peaks. We continue to work with the Bureau of Land Management staff to transfer the Achenbach Canyon property for permanent protection, which will take a few years. Thanks for your support of this important acquisition at Achenbach Canyon to protect future public access.

Panama and Principal Lode | Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, CO

When we purchased the 19-acre Panama/Principal Lode property outside of Aspen, Colorado in the fall of 2020, we knew there was work to be done to get the property “wilderness ready” in order to transfer it to the White River National Forest. A historic cabin on the property needed to be emptied of its contents, its roof dismantled, and the mounds of trash surrounding it, removed.

The Trust enlisted the help of The Independence Pass Foundation (IPF) with the cleanup and throughout last summer, volunteers made multiple trips to the property to haul out everything from old bedsprings to a heavy table and chairs to a yoga mat. The culmination of this work happened in late August, 2021 when the Trust, IPF, and the Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers (RFOV) dismantled and carried out a wood-burning stone, the cabin’s plywood floor and metal roof.

We are happy to report that, upon the completion of this cleanup, the property is now ready to be transferred to become part of the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. We are working with the US Forest Service staff to complete this transfer.

Little Chetco | Kalmiopsis Wilderness, OR

The Trust acquired this 60-acre mining claim adjacent the Little Chetco River in 2017, the last remaining private inholding within the 180,000 acre Kalmiopsis Wilderness. This southwest Oregon wilderness contains the headwaters of three national wild and scenic rivers — the Chetco, North Fork Smith, and Illinois — clean, clear waters that provide critical habitat for salmon and steelhead. Our acquisition and impending transfer to the USFS permanently removes the threat of a former active mining operation that directly impacted critical spawning beds and water quality of the Chetco River drainage.

Acquisition of these properties removed the threat of development, but there is an equal amount of hard work in transferring these properties to our agency partners for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System. Your continued support of The Wilderness Land Trust provides the resources for our staff to complete site visits and due diligence in that second phase of work. Please consider making a gift to steward these lands into public ownership!

Beyond the Ghost Town Lies a Stranger Lode

June 30, 2022 – The Holy Cross Wilderness of Colorado is one of miles of trails and stunning beauty. It sits between the Vail Pass and Thompson Divide wildlife corridors and allows everything from elk to Canada lynx to pass through unencumbered. This wilderness area is also riddled with private land that threaten that passage. The Wilderness Land Trust recently ramped up our efforts to remove these threats and as a result, in the last year we have acquired five parcels in the Holy Cross Wilderness.

The Stranger Lode property is our latest acquisition and is located along the shores of Cleveland Lake just inside the southeast side of the wilderness area boundary. The hike to Cleveland Lake is short and steep. It follows a road that was build in 1883 to support the mining town of Holy Cross City. Today, the road is a well-known world class 4×4 excursion. On the weekends, it is crowded with those with the skills and will to drive up to what is now the ghost town of Holy Cross City.

Just a mile above the ghost town and within the wilderness is Cleveland Lake and the Stranger Lode property. Where Holy Cross City provides a destination for extreme motorists, the lake provides solitude and serenity for hikers.

Though the Stranger Lode parcel is small at only 9 acres, it posed a big threat. The property is flat and scenic and close enough to the wilderness border and a road to increase the likelihood of cabin development.

With the threat removed, The Wilderness Land Trust is turning our focus to transferring the over 50 acres of land that we now own in the Holy Cross Wilderness to public ownership. It is because of you, our supporters, that our work continues and areas like the Holy Cross Wilderness move, piece by piece, towards a truly protected place. We thank you!

Mount Massive Wilderness Completed

May 19, 2022 – The Wilderness Land Trust (the Trust) transferred the last private inholding in the Mount Massive Wilderness to the United States Forest Service (USFS). The 20-acre Blue Lake property sits in the basin below the summit of Twining Peak east of Independence Pass and has the North Fork Lake Creek trail running through it. This property was vulnerable to mineral extraction and posed a significant threat to the surrounding wilderness.

The Trust acquired the property to remove this threat with the intent of transferring it to the USFS. With this transfer, the Mount Massive Wilderness, which includes Mount Elbert, Colorado’s highest peak, is now completely free of private inholdings and fully protected as wilderness.

“Our mission is to keep the promise of wilderness by acquiring private lands within them and transferring them to public ownership to become part of the surrounding wilderness,” says Brad Borst, president of The Wilderness Land Trust. “Our ultimate goal is to see every wilderness area free of private inholdings. The transfer of the last inholding in the Mount Massive Wilderness is a huge success for us and something to celebrate.”

The Blue Lake property is one of several parcels that the Trust has recently acquired off of Independence Pass. The group also owns the Spotted Tail, Panama, and Principal mining lodes, totaling 30 acres, near the Independence Townsite. With the partnership of the Independence Pass Foundation, these properties are ready to transfer to the USFS. That transfer will eliminate the last private land within the Pitkin County portion of the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness.

The Wilderness Land Trust was founded in 1992 by long time Aspen resident, Jon Mulford, and in the 30 years of its existence has conveyed more than 6,000 acres of formerly private land to the Forest Service and BLM in Colorado for permanent wilderness protection.

“It is very important to eliminate private land inholdings inside wilderness areas”, said Wilderness Land Trust Board Member Sara Shaw of Basalt, “because if the lands remain private land they can be developed with mineral exploration, mountain cabins and access roads which can severely compromise the solitude and natural values of wilderness, and harm wildlife.”

The Wilderness Land Trust is the only charitable organization in the nation focused solely on acquiring lands within in wilderness, wilderness study areas and proposed wilderness, and conveying them to the public for permanent wildlands protection. “Wilderness is critical to the protection of fish, wildlife and plant communities, water flows, clean air, climate stability and preserving places where the public can enjoy wild land”, said Borst. “We love the opportunity our work presents to conserve wildlands for future generations”.

Hercules Lode looking at Fancy Lake

More Protection in the Holy Cross Wilderness

From Hercules Lode looking at Fancy Lake in the Holy Cross Wilderness

From Hercules Lode looking at Fancy Lake in the Holy Cross Wilderness

March 11, 2022 – Today we closed on two more parcels in the Holy Cross Wilderness of Colorado. These properties, the Chance and Hercules Lodes, total 25 acres and are located on the southwest side of the wilderness.

I had the good fortune of visiting these properties with my cousin, who happens to live close by. Until that day, my cousin was unfamiliar with my job and so, as we hiked past the wooden Holy Cross Wilderness sign, I described the mission of The Wilderness Land Trust and why our work is important. I told her that, while the ground we were walking on is thought to have the highest level of land protection, there are actually significant holes in that protection.

When we reached the first of the two parcels, the flat, beautiful 5-acre Hercules Lode which runs along the east shore of Fancy Lake, my cousin was shocked.

“This is private property?!”

I explained that these pieces of private land are not only a threat because of the opportunities for cabins to be built, mines dug, trees felled.  They are a threat because they siphon off resources otherwise used to manage the surrounding wilderness. Their mere existence degrades the integrity of the wilderness area.

The good news is, The Wilderness Land Trust has a way to remove this threat and make our wilderness areas truly protected.

We’ve been at it for 30 years.

In Colorado alone, we have protected more than 6,000 acres of private land and the innumerable acres of surrounding public land with our work.

And today, we can add another 25 acres to that number.

We are grateful for all of our supporters who make our work protecting wilderness possible. We truly couldn’t do it without you.

-Kelly Conde, Wilderness Land Trust Lands Specialist

View of Mulhall Lake from Chance Lode

View of Mulhall Lake from Chance Lode

Photo of Hercules Lode which runs along the east side of Fancy Lake in the Holy Cross Wilderness

Photo of Hercules Lode which runs along the east side of Fancy Lake in the Holy Cross Wilderness

Looking down on the southeast corner of the Holy Cross Wilderness on the hike to Chance Lode

Looking down on the southeast corner of the Holy Cross Wilderness on the hike to Chance Lode

Light snow on the ridge behind a lake, as seen from the Northern Lode property

More Protection for Wilderness in Colorado

Light snow on the ridge behind a lake, as seen from the Northern Lode property

A spectacular view from the Northern Lode property

Feb. 25, 2022 – Today, The Wilderness Land Trust closed on the Northern Lode property, a 10-acre parcel on the eastern side of the Holy Cross Wilderness in Colorado. The Northern Lode is a true wilderness inholding, meaning it is completely surrounded by federally designated wilderness and will automatically become a new addition to the Holy Cross upon transfer.

I visited this property on a crisp, sunny day last October. The parcel is a three-mile trek into the wilderness area and sits just south of the 13,000-foot Homestake Peak on a steep, scree-filled slope.

As with every project site visit, this trip was a combination of pleasure and work. I got to punch through the first snow of the season, scramble up rocky slopes and soak in rugged ridgelines. I also investigated the remnants of old mining pits just off the property boundary and checked off another step towards acquisition. This trip ended up being my last wilderness hike of the year, closing another season of mountain wandering.

A snowy view of the mountains from the Northern Lode propertySo now, in mid-winter, this property sits close in my mind and makes its acquisition that much sweeter to me.

We are so grateful to all of our supporters for helping us continue this great work. To date, we have protected 6,086 acres in Colorado and are actively working on acquiring another 55 acres in this state. Please check out our current Colorado work online and stay tuned for more good news from across the western United States!

-Kelly Conde, Wilderness Land Trust Lands Specialist

The Trust's Copper Glance Lode property

The Trust Celebrates its 30th With a Successful Project Where It All Began

The view from the Copper Glance Lode property

The view from the Trust’s Copper Glance Lode property

Feb. 4, 2022 – In 1992, attorney Jon Mulford worked with the U.S Forest Service (USFS) on several small land transactions outside of Aspen, Colorado. Through this experience, he discovered that private inholdings within the boundaries of federally designated wilderness were posing environmental threats to the landscape and creating management issues for the agency.

This information inspired Jon to develop a plan to acquire private properties within the wilderness designation and turn them over to public ownership. His vision was a national wilderness preservation system free from the threat of human development.

On February 6, 1992, Jon founded The Wilderness Land Trust to fulfill his vision. Since that time, The Trust has acquired and transferred 514 properties totaling 54,110 acres throughout the west, including 6,077 acres in Colorado.

The Trust's Copper Glance Lode property

The Trust’s Copper Glance Lode property

As the staff lead for projects in Colorado, I am honored to announce the purchase of our latest inholding where it all started. The Copper Glance Lode is a 10.33-acre property in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. This parcel sits in the scenic Queens Basin and was part of the former Copper Glance mining operation. With the Trust’s purchase of this parcel, Queens Basin is now free of the threat of development.

This year, The Wilderness Land Trust celebrates its 30th anniversary. I reached out to Jon Mulford and asked him for his thoughts. His response was simple, “Keep up the good work.” On behalf of our entire staff and board, we want to express how grateful we are to our supporters, project partners, agency staff and landowners who make our mission to protect wilderness possible.

Thank you Jon, for starting us on this journey. We promise to keep up the good work.

-Kelly Conde, Wilderness Land Trust Lands Specialist