But the guy who owns the 1880s-era ghost town, as well as the state’s most famous historic mill and most of the surrounding Colorado backcountry, hopes to alter that.
There hasn’t been much going on in Crystal, near Marble, since the silver mining business went bankrupt a year before World War I ended.
To start with, the cabins are to be constructed using green building techniques, the retreat will be powered using hydro, solar and geothermal-generated energy and they want to purchase an all-electric fleet of service vehicles, including an electric snowcat when they become available.
In the winter, Chris Cox and his development partner, Stuart Gillespie, aim to create a high-end winter and summer hideaway at Crystal, including guided and unguided backcountry skiing, as well as hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, and fly-fishing in the summer. Along the North and South Forks of the Crystal River, the project would also include 20 luxury cottages and a farm-to-table restaurant.
“You mention development in the Crystal Valley and immediately people are opposed to it,” said Cox, whose family has owned most of the area around Crystal for nearly 100 years. “I’m not going to B-S people — we are doing development. But we’re also doing a major give to the environment and to the community.
In addition, they have offered to place a conservation easement on 85% of the property Cox owns in the area that would stop development forever, place a historical preservation overlay on the area from the Crystal Mill through the ghost town of Crystal City to ensure it remains the way it looks now in perpetuity and, finally, donate the increasingly popular Crystal Mill to an independent, nonprofit foundation that would manage, restore and preserve the building.
Located just beyond the Crystal Mill, which is considered one of the most iconic photos in Colorado and a magnet for hordes of tourists thanks to the rise of social media, the town of Crystal was established in 1881 but mostly abandoned by 1917. Cox’s great-grandfather, Emmet Gould, bought up much of the town in the early 1900s, and Cox grew up spending summers in Crystal.
Five years ago, a majority of Cox’s family who owned most of Crystal “wanted to sell out to the highest bidder,” Cox told members of the Marble Board of Trustees on Thursday. After a legal fight, Cox said he forced his family to sell the property to him, though he had to take on a significant amount of debt to make the deal work.
Now, with the need to generate income to pay off the land, Cox and Gillespie came up with the current plan, which starts with the 10 proposed cabins along the North Fork of the Crystal River and 10 cabins on the South Fork of the Crystal River. The two forks come together just above the Crystal Mill. The cabins will each be between 750 and 850 square feet and most will be one-bedroom, according to the development proposal. Some will be 10 to 20 feet above the ground “to give a ‘treehouse feel’” while others will have “treehouse decks.”
“Cabins will have floor-to-ceiling windows facing the river, ample natural light, wood-burning fireplaces, and geothermal heated floors,” the proposal states. “High focus (will be) on providing ‘wow’ factor that differentiates from more traditional resort experiences.” In observance of green building techniques, the cabins will not have concrete foundations and will be made of natural materials, including utilizing dead trees onsite and milling them for construction. Water will come from a natural spring, and the plan is to custom build the 20 cabins to each specific location over a five-year period, according to the proposal.
“The cabins will be built individually with a lot of care and a lot of creativity,” Cox said. “They will be smaller cabins but with a big wow factor.” The cabins are expected to rent for between $400 and $850 a night depending on the season, though the developers are “planning to offer local discounts to make this accessible to the community,” the development proposal states.
A site for employee housing would be constructed across the meadow from the lodge. “Employee housing will consist of eight cabins or yurts centered around a bathhouse and kitchen,” according to the proposal, which notes that 16 employees would be living on site.
Cox and Gillespie also want to build a 4,000- to 5,000-square-foot lodge in a meadow behind the ghost town’s main street, with a fine-dining, farm-to-table restaurant that will feature produce grown in an onsite greenhouse. The lodge will not have individual rooms for rent and will not be open to the public, but will function as a hang-out spot for guests, Cox said. “The newer cabins will reach a higher level than we have now,” Cox said, referring to the five rustic cabins currently for rent at Crystal Mountain Ranch. “But it’s not going to be an exclusive club.”