The Benedict Building, home to Aspen Journalism. in November, 2015.
The Benedict Building, home to Aspen Journalism. in November 2015. Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith / Aspen Journalism

Aspen Journalism’s mission is to inform citizens on issues relevant to the communities in the Roaring Fork River watershed, the Western Slope, the state of Colorado, and the West.

In 2015, Aspen Journalism focused on two areas of coverage, water and education, and did so in collaboration with The Aspen Times, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, and the Aspen Daily News.

Aspen Journalism was founded in January 2011 and so 2015 marked Aspen Journalism’s fifth full year of operations.

The upper Roaring Fork River lives up to its name on June 11, 2015, as it roars down the steep descent at the Grottos area east of Aspen. Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith / Aspen Journalism

The Water Desk

Brent Gardner-Smith staffed the Aspen Journalism Water Desk and wrote 42 stories, including 24 stories on the Colorado Water Plan and/or transmountain diversions.

Gardner-Smith’s water stories in 2015 were published in collaboration with The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. Both papers have a daily print circulation of 9,000 and see about 35,000 unique online visits a day.

The stories were also published on Aspen Journalism’s website, normally with the added value of links to source documents and photos and graphics.

Additionally, the stories were also published on Coyote Gulch, an online aggregation of water stories produced for an engaged audience of water professionals in Colorado.

The stories gained further exposure through a daily email list of state and regional water stories prepared by Loretta Lohrman, associated with Colorado State University.

Also in 2015, Aspen Journalism further magnified its stories by discussing water issues in news segments produced by, and aired on, Aspen Public Radio and KDNK Carbondale Community Access Radio.

The outflow of the Bousted Tunnel just above Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville. The tunnel moves water from tributaries of the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers under the Continental Divide for use by Front Range cities, and Pitkin County officials have concerns that more water will someday be sent through it. Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism / Aspen Journalism

Approach to reporting

The Aspen Journalism Water Desk was set up in 2014 to cover rivers and water in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River watersheds, as well as other river basins across Colorado.

The water beat in 2015 consisted in large part of coverage of organizations such as the Colorado River District, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and the state’s nine basin roundtables. As part of his reporting in 2015, Gardner-Smith attended over 50 water meetings around the state, where he was usually the only reporter present. Almost all of the meetings were dominated by the issues raised by the development of the Colorado Water Plan.

While on the Water Desk, Gardner-Smith also reported on local and regional water issues relevant to the city of Aspen, Pitkin County, and the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board.

The dam that forms Homestake Reservoir on Homestake Creek, a tributary of the Eagle River. An agreement allows for more water to be developed as part of this transmountain diversion project. Credit: Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith / Aspen Journalism

Stories produced by Aspen Journalism’s Water Desk in 2015:

Below is a list of the stories produced by Gardner-Smith on Aspen Journalism’s Water Desk in 2015.

January 2, 2015
Can Colorado approve a water right to grow pot?

January 7, 2015
Aspen faces deadlines on federal hydro permit

January 28, 2015
Dam at Wolford Reservoir north of Kremmling moving slightly, but steadily

January 30, 2015
Regional water leaders discuss potential transmountain diversion

March 2, 2015
Water entities line up on either side of the Divide in state supreme court case

March 14, 2015
Aspen utilities official favors new dams on local streams

March 21, 2015
Potential new transmountain diversion gets a boost at statewide summit

March 23, 2015
Aspen water plan emphasizes a potential need for storage

March 30, 2015
Colorado River roundtable prioritizes water projects

Local river user on the Roaring Fork River in Basalt. Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith / Aspen Journalism

April 1, 2015
Regional water efficiency plan for Roaring Fork watershed released

April 27, 2015
‘Split season’ approach to water use could benefit state’s rivers, including the Crystal River

April 29, 2015
Water districts seek study of Kendig Reservoir on West Divide Creek

May 3, 2015
Head of CWCB enthusiastic about instream flows

May 21, 2015
Watching the mouth of the Roaring Fork River

June 3, 2015
Dueling comments on Colorado Water Plan

June 10, 2015
Justice scolds Aurora over diverted Fryingpan River water use

June 13, 2015
Roaring Fork River threatens to flood

June 16, 2015
Basalt river work overtopped, mostly by design

June 18, 2015
Roaring Fork River kicks it up a notch

June 30, 2015
Colorado Supreme Court rules against private streams

The Colorado River, en route to Lake Powell. Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith / Aspen Journalism

July 4, 2015
Challenges to the Colorado River laid out at Ideas Fest

July 7, 2015
The South Platte basin calls for more Western Slope water

July 8, 2015
Second draft of Colorado Water Plan released

July 13, 2015
Water committee endorses revised transmountain diversion document

July 10, 2015
Aurora, Colorado Springs opposing proposed Glenwood whitewater parks

July 16, 2015
State water board rules against Glenwood’s proposed whitewater rights

July 25, 2015
Transmountain diversion concepts discussed in Rifle

July 31, 2015
Fixing ‘moving dam’ near Kremmling could cost $15M

August 14, 2015
Work underway to diagnose situation at Grizzly Reservoir

August 19, 2015
Progress made on Grizzly Reservoir repairs

August 20, 2015
Sen. Bennet talks water and mine clean-up in Vail

August 26, 2015
Transmountain diversion framework endorsed by water planners

September 5, 2015
Ruedi water to flow to endangered fish

A recent photo of the water behind the Lincoln Gulch Diversion Dam on Lincoln Creek that forms Grizzly Reservoir. Repairs to the outlet gate were completed on Oct. 6 without having to drain the standing water at the bottom of the reservoir. Credit: Source: Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co.

October 11, 2014
Twin Lakes finishes dam repairs, draws opposition in water court

October 24, 2015
Action items to be injected into Colorado Water Plan

October 27, 2015
Western Slope lawmakers offer lukewarm view of state water plan

November 3, 2015
Front Range water providers defend their turf

November 8, 2015
Diverse views on framework for future transmountain diversions

November 9, 2015
The Colorado Water Plan’s twin goals of storage, conservation debated

November 19, 2015
Boiling down the Colorado Water Plan

November 20, 2015
Hickenlooper accepts water plan, downplays diversions

November 23, 2016
Water plan gives boost to ‘projects, projects, projects’

November 25, 2015
Lots of ‘storage’ in water plan, but few ‘dams’

November 28, 2015
Colorado’s Conceptual Framework’ included in water plan

From left, Russ George, a CWCB board member; Andrew Gorgey, then Garfield County manager; Peter Fleming, general counsel for the Colorado River District; and James Eklund, director of the CWCB, talking about the potential for new transmountain diversions outside of the Garfield County building in Glenwood Springs in 2015. Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Meetings, events and seminars attended by Gardner-Smith in 2015:

This list does not include meetings in the Roaring Fork River valley of the Aspen City Council, the Pitkin board of County Commissioners, the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board, the Roaring Fork Watershed Collaborative or other local entities.

January 5, 2015
Gunnison Basin Roundtable

January 14, 2015
Yampa/White Basin Roundtable

January 20-21, 2015
Colorado River District
Glenwood Springs

January 28, 2015
Interbasin Compact Committee meeting

January 28-30, 2015
Colorado Water Congress

February 2, 2015
Gunnison Basin Roundtable

February 11-13, 2015
DARCA annual convention
Grand Junction

February 11, 2015
Water for Agriculture seminar
Grand Junction

February 18, 2015
Water for Agriculture seminar
Grand Junction

February 23, 2015
Colorado River Basin Roundtable
Glenwood Springs

February 25, 2015
Water for Agriculture seminar
Grand Junction

March 3, 2015
Colorado and Gunnison executive committees meeting

March 11, 2015
Water Educator Network Symposium

March 12, 2015
Statewide Basin Roundtable Summit

March 23, 2015
Colorado Basin Roundtable
Glenwood Springs

April 21, 2015
Colorado River District
Glenwood Springs

April 27, 2015
Colorado Basin Roundtable
Glenwood Springs

April 30,2015
IBCC meeting

May 12, 2015
South Platte Basin Roundtable

May 13, 2015
Metro Roundtable

Point four of the list presented March 12, 2015, by the CWCB’s Jacob Bornstein.

June 1, 2015
Gunnison Basin Roundtable

June 1, 2015
Gunnison State of the Rivers meeting

June 5-12, 2015
Friends of the Yampa river trip

June 22, 2015
Colorado Basin Roundtable
Glenwood Springs

July 21-22, 2015
Colorado River District
Glenwood Springs

June 24-26, 2015
Colorado Water Workshop

July 3, 2015
Aspen Ideas Festival, “Killing the Colorado”

July 13, 2015
IBCC meeting

July 14, 2015
S. Platte Basin Roundtable

July 15-16, 2015
CWCB meeting

July 25, 2015
Garfield County Summit on Colorado Water Plan

July 27, 2015
Colorado Basin Roundtable
Glenwood Springs

July 28, 2015
North Platte Basin Roundtable

August 11, 2015
S. Platte Basin Roundtable

August 12, 2015
Arkansas Basin Roundtable

August 18, 2015
Upper Eagle River Basin Water Tour

August 19 -21, 2015
Colorado Water Congress

August 24, 2015
Colorado Basin Roundtable
Glenwood Springs

August 25, 2015
IBCC meeting

October 8, 2015
Integrated Water Planning Summit
Glenwood Springs

October 20, 2015
Colorado River District
Glenwood Springs

October 26, 2015
Colorado Basin Roundtable
Glenwood Springs

The Colorado Water Conservation Board, after unveiling the Colorado Water Plan in Denver in November 2015. The board includes eight voting members from river basins in Colorado and one voting member from the city and county of Denver. Russ George, far left, represents the Colorado River basin. Credit: Photo: Colorado River District

Some of the entities covered in 2015 as part of Aspen Journalism’s Water Desk reporting:

City of Aspen
Arkansas River basin roundtable
Aurora Water
Town of Basalt
Colorado Foundation for Water Education
Colorado River basin roundtable
Colorado River Water Conservation District
Colorado Springs Utilities
Colorado Water Conservation Board
Colorado Water Congress
Colorado Water Trust
Denver Water
Eagle River Water and Sanitation District
City of Glenwood Springs
Gunnison River basin roundtable
Interbasin Compact Committee
Metro basin roundtable
Pitkin County
Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board
Roaring Fork Conservancy
Roaring Fork Watershed Collaborative
Ruedi Water and Power Authority
Southeastern Water Conservancy District
South Platte River basin roundtable
Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co.

A cabin dating to the mid-1960s in the Stillwater section of the Roaring Fork River was flooded in June 2015, with standing water in the living room and in a nearby art studio. Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith / Aspen Journalism

The Education Desk

A report card for Aspen High School issued by Colorado School Grades. Credit: Source: Colorado School Grades

Bob Ward staffed the Aspen Journalism Education Desk and wrote 35 studies on issues facing the schools in the Roaring Fork River watershed. His stories were published in collaboration with The Aspen Times.

Ward covered administrators, teachers and students in the Aspen School District and the Roaring Fork School District.

Ward’s coverage of education helped bring a number of issues and challenges in the local school districts to light, including those involving staffing, testing, and finance.

Aspen High School Principal Kim Martin, interacting with students. Credit: Christine Capasso / Aspen Journalism

Approach to reporting

Ward, the former editor of The Aspen Times, worked closely with editors at The Times to cover the always-difficult-to-cover “school beat” in a way that added insight into the workings of the schools in the Roaring Fork River valley.

Going beyond traditional coverage of school board meetings, Ward met and talked with administrators, teachers, parents and students about their experiences in the schools and kept the community well-informed about the challenges facing everyone who went to a local school for one reason or another.

Members of the Longhorn Bots, a Basalt Middle School robotics team, use computers to program their Lego machines. Credit: Aubree Dallas/The Aspen Times

Education stories in 2015

January 6, 2015
Aspen, Roaring Fork school officials prepare for legislative battle

January 14, 2015
Roaring Fork School District carefully reviewing new superintendent contracts

January 15, 2015
Local students march into robotic Lego competition

January 17, 2015
Nonprofit coalition gives grades to Colorado schools

January 20, 2016
Roaring Fork school contracts still in dispute

February 3, 2015
Graduation rates up, dropout rates down in Aspen, Roaring Fork schools

February 17, 2015
Aspen Community School considers a name change

February 18, 2015
Aspen High School students don’t use alcohol and drugs as often as peers perceive

February 27, 2015
Aspen Community School decides against name change

March 2, 2015
Online exams usher in a new era of statewide testing

March 17, 2015
Contracts signal new era for Roaring Fork School District

March 20, 2015
Basalt Middle School earns ‘Trailblazer’ honor

Unlike most previous Colorado state-mandated exams, the new PARCC standardized tests will be administered online. Credit: Christina Capasso / Aspen Journalism

April 14, 2015
Aspen High School committee tackles cheating, ‘academic integrity’

April 15, 2015
Marijuana taxes will help Colorado schools to build

April 28, 2015
Innovative woodshop class connects students to community

April 30, 2015
Roaring Fork Valley puts the focus on early childhood education

May 19, 2015
Basalt High School principal to leave in June

May 21, 2015
Aspen High principal resigns, will leave at end of school year

May 21, 2015
Aspen High School further restricts admissions

May 27, 2015
Questions surround Aspen School District’s resignations, retirements

May 28, 2015
Making the match of college

June 1, 2015
Roaring Fork school bond election likely in November

June 16, 2015
New leaders at Basalt’s middle and high schools

Tharyn Mulberry, the new principal at Aspen High School. Credit: Courtesy photo

August 14, 2015
New Aspen High principal enters challenging environment

August 26, 2015
School rankings give Aspen High School high marks

September 4, 2015
Aspen School District launches first of two pleas to local voters

September 9, 2015
Basalt public schools hope for an upgrade

September 11, 2015
Oops — five candidates vie for just two school board seats

September 16, 2015
Candidates speak out at Aspen school board forum

September 28, 2015
College Fair to take place under a big top

Built in the 1970s, Basalt Middle School is expected to receive a major renovation if the district wins a possible bond election. Credit: Christina Capasso/Aspen Journalism

October 3, 2015
Roaring Fork bond proposal has big plans, big price tag

October 5, 2015
Roots of Aspen School District Question 3A go back five years

October 20, 2015
Wi-Fi won’t cost $40,000, but school bus still too pricey for candidate

October 20, 2015
School-board candidates weigh in on academics, finance and school culture

November 5, 2015
Aspen school tax triumphs, incumbents re-elected

Under contracts approved March 11, Roaring Fork School District Superintendent Diana Sirko, left, will remain in her post for two years, and Chief Academic Officer Rob Stein will replace her in 2017. Credit: Christopher Mullen / Glenwood Springs Post Independent

List of education organizations covered in 2015

Aspen School District
Aspen Elementary School
Aspen Middle School
Aspen High School
Aspen Country Day
Aspen Community School
Roaring Fork School District
Basalt Elementary School
Basalt Middle School
Basalt High School
Colorado Dept. of Education
Crystal River Elementary, Carbondale
Carbondale Middle School
Roaring Fork High School, Carbondale
Sopris Elementary School, Glenwood Springs
Glenwood Springs Middle School
Glenwood Springs High School

Aspen Journalism’s 2015 operations

Donors in 2015 (thank you!):

Arches Foundation
Aspen Business Center Foundation
Bob Bowden
Brett Family Foundation
Carol Craig
Nick DeWolf Foundation
RJ and Nancy Gallagher
Mark Harvey
Cathy and Walter Isaacson
Margulf Foundation
Ernst and Wilma Martens Foundation
John McBride
Michael McVoy
Tim and Donna McFlynn
John Orr
Barbara Reeves
George Stranahan

Revenue in 2015: $127,949 (Per Form 990)

Expense in 2015: $116,785

Revenue over 5 years, 2011 through 2015: $581,928

Reporting capacity in 2015: 1 FTE and $25,000 in freelance reporting capacity.

Number of stories published in 2015: 83

Reach/potential audience:

Reach via The Aspen Times:

67 stories published, at 9,000 potential print readers per story, but likely far less than that.

67 stories published, at 30,000 potential online readers per story, but likely far less than that.

Reach via the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

28 stories published at 9,000 potential print readers per story: 252,000, but likely far less than that.

28 stories published, at an average of 600 unique page views each (per publisher Randy Essex): 16,800

Reach via the Aspen Daily News:

4 stories published, at 14,500 potential print readers: 58,000, but likely far less than that.

4 stories published, at 15,000 estimated potential online readers: 60,000, but likely far less than that.

Reach via Coyote Gulch:

35 stories published. Coyote Gulch, an annotated blog of Colorado water news stories and information, had 239,517 views and 75,287 visitors in 2015. The number of click-throughs to the more heavily viewed stories by Aspen Journalism posted on Coyote Gulch in 2015 ranged from 50 to 450.

Reach via Aspen Journalism’s website,

Online traffic January 1, 2015, to January 1, 2016

Sessions: 91,358

Users: 77,843

Page views: 110,815

Social media stats (as of August 2016):

Twitter: 986 followers

Facebook: 374 likes


Aspen Journalism’s stories in 2015 did not, admittedly, spark any immediate reform that we can point to. However, the stories we produced kept an engaged audience well-informed about a number of important issues related to water and education.

The Water Desk covered, for example, the first-ever Colorado water plan, the prospects of future transmountain diversions, potential dams on Castle and Maroon creeks, the legal status of private streams, Glenwood’s proposed water rights for whitewater parks on the Colorado River, and damage to Grizzly Reservoir.

And the Education Desk covered the issues of school superintendent contracts, student drug and alcohol use, principal turnovers, and a school-funding election.

Journalism advisory board

Roger Adams, former news director, Aspen Public Radio
Dave Danforth, owner and staff mascot, Aspen Daily News
Charles Davis, dean, Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Georgia
Charles Firestone, executive director, Aspen Institute Communications & Society Program
Laura Frank, executive director, Rocky Mountain Investigative News Network, and vice president of news, Rocky Mountain PBS
Sarah Gilman, contributing editor, High Country News
Rem Rieder, editor at large and media columnist, USA Today
Curtis Robinson, co-founder, Roaring Fork Sunday, former editor, Aspen Daily News
Steve Skinner, general manager, KDNK, Carbondale
Andy Stone, columnist, former editor, The Aspen Times
Mike Webb, sales and marketing director, Honolulu Civil Beat

Aspen Journalism board of directors

Tim McFlynn, chair
Tim is the executive director of Public Counsel of the Rockies, the chair of Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Board, and a Manaus Fund board member.

Edgar Boyles
Edgar is an Emmy-winning cameraman and director of photography at WildWood Films in Aspen. Edgar has 40 years of experience filming in mountainous and remote locations.

Mark Harvey
Mark Harvey is a writer, filmmaker and photographer. He is the author of “The NOLS Wilderness Guide” and the producer and director of the documentary “A Land Out of Time.” Mark is the current president of the board of EcoFlight and has served on the board of High Country News, the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and Public Counsel of the Rockies.

Michael McVoy
Michael is an Aspen-based investment adviser, the former co-publisher of The Aspen Times, and a Manaus Fund board member.

Harry Teague
Harry Teague is the founder and principal designer at Harry Teague Architects. He has lived in the Aspen area since 1972, when he received his M. Arch. from the Yale School of Architecture. Teague’s work, which includes the Benedict Music Tent in Aspen, has been widely recognized and appreciated.

Executive Director

Brent Gardner-Smith is the executive director and editor of Aspen Journalism. He’s worked as a reporter at the Aspen Daily News and The Aspen Times and served as executive director of Aspen Public Radio. He has a master’s degree in journalism from the Missouri School of Journalism. In 2010, as part of his graduate program, Brent worked as a paid intern in the communications department of ProPublica in New York.

Brent Gardner-Smith

Brent Gardner-Smith, the founder of Aspen Journalism, and who served as AJ’s executive director until August 2021 and as editor from 2011-2020, is the news director at Aspen Public Radio. He's also been...