The Story of Maroon Creek

Aspen is home to the beautiful Elk Mountains, and nestled within them are the renowned Maroon Peaks. Both peaks reach above 14,000 feet and are known as the Maroon Bells. They are the most photographed peaks in Colorado because of their stunning beauty.

Photo: Maroon Lake – John Fowler –

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Photo: East Maroon Creek — Dhaval Shreyas —

The headwaters of Maroon Creek start high up in the Elk Mountains and the Maroon Bells, and begin with East and West Maroon Creeks, joining together before the town of Aspen and snaking alongside ski slopes. Maroon Creek then flows west of downtown Aspen and joins with the Roaring Fork River.

Maroon Creek works hard. One of the sources for the water in people’s homes in Aspen comes from Maroon Creek.

The creek also provides for the Maroon Creek Wetlands, which is a popular birding spot. Along the creek is a great deal of recreation, including countless trails for hiking, running, cross country skiing, horseback riding, and camping. There are also ranches that use Maroon Creek for agriculture. Lastly, the water from Maroon Creek is sometimes used to make snow for nearby ski slopes.

Photo: West Maroon Creek – Steven dosRemedios –

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Colorado Water Trust’s Maroon Creek project was our first project in the Roaring Fork River Basin.

We started talking to Pitkin County about how we could work together to improve flows in the Roaring Fork Basin in 2001. It wasn’t until a new bill was passed in the Colorado House of Representatives (House Bill 08-1280) in 2008 that allowed water users more flexibility in how they could use their water rights, that we could move forward in brainstorming viable solutions. Together with Pitkin County and the Colorado Water Conservation Board, we signed an innovative Trust Agreement in 2013 to allow the County to keep water in the Maroon Creek at the Stapleton Brothers Ditch, for the purpose of improving streamflows.

It has cost $200,000 and taken four years, but Pitkin County is poised to become the first county in Colorado to sign a long-term lease with the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to leave water in a river for environmental purposes and also have the deal sanctified in state water court. The deal will allow Pitkin County to legally let up to 3.83 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water run freely past the Stapleton Brothers ditch headgate on Maroon Creek near Iselin Field. The water, part of a senior water right the county holds on Stapleton Ditch, will be protected…
Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Daily News, June 24, 2013

Colorado Water Trust continues to work with the CWCB to steward this project each year. The boosted flows that began officially in 2014 continue today and have restored nearly 2 billion gallons of water (more than 6000 acre feet) to Maroon Creek, adding flows to the Roaring Fork River, a tributary to the mighty Colorado River.

Photo: Roaring Fork River – Dale Armstrong

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