Below is a list of Aspen Journalism’s best reporting efforts since 2011, when the organization was founded. The list is based on the quality of reporting, the impact of the stories, and the effective use of public information.

We produced the list in response to a query from Mark Harvey, an Aspen Journalism board member, as we prepare for our year-end fundraising campaign.

The list is a collection of thematic stories, rather than just individual stories, to illustrate how we pursue an issue thoroughly and to its end.

A generous gift in any amount helps us continue to bring you hard hitting, in-depth, thoughtful writing, not found anywhere else in the valley.

We believe there is a tremendous amount of good work yet to do. Our plans include putting full-time beat reporters on issues such as education, climate change, transportation, commercial development, land use, and tourism.

And we will continue to plumb local public data, which is often difficult and costly to access, and then present it online in a useful and compelling format.

The Aspen Journalism Top Ten

Will Roush, left, of Wilderness Workshop, and Ken Neubecker, right, of American Rivers, hold up tape on Sept. 7, 2016 showing where the base of a 155-foot-tall dam would be located on Maroon Creek if the City of Aspen were to build the potential Maroon Creek Reservoir. Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

1. Series of stories (45), since 2012, on conditional water storage rights tied to potential dams on upper Maroon and Castle creeks, and the city’s decision to try and transfer the storage rights to other locations, including on two golf courses near Aspen and the gravel pit in Woody Creek.

A. “City maintains rights for dams on Castle and Maroon creeks,” July, 2012

B. “Timeline: Castle Creek Reservoir and Maroon Creek Reservoir,” Oct. 2016

C. “Aspen officials finalize all agreements on Castle and Maroon dam cases,” October, 2018

Water leaving a section of the Meeker Ditch, which was curtailed in 2014 by the state division engineer based in Steamboat Springs. The division engineer had found that the ditch operator was diverting more water from the White River than necessary to irrigate hay fields under the ditch. Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

2. In-depth coverage about the state of Colorado’s administration of the over-diversion of water in irrigation.

A. “Don’t take more than you need: wrangling wasted water on the Western Slope,” July 2016.

B. “Colorado’s top water cop says Don’t divert more than you need,” August 2017

The city’s diversion dam on Castle Creek, which is about 2.5 miles above the proposed hydro power plant. Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith

3. Series of stories (19) about the city’s potential Castle Creek hydro plant, which was eventually shelved by city officials.

A. “Aspen defends its journey from penstock to drainline,” June, 2012

B. “Case for completing reservoir drain pipe not water tight,” November, 2014

C. “A look at who is suing Aspen over water rights for hydro,” January, 2012

This is a side channel of the Crystal River just upstream of the potential Osgood dam site, looking toward Chair Mountain. Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith

4. Series of stories (11) about potential conditional water storage rights tied to potential dams on the Crystal River, which the Colorado River District and the West Divide Water Conservancy District abandoned.

A.”The Phantom dams of the Crystal River,” March, 2011

B. “The history of the West Divide project,” March, 2011

C. “Districts withdraw claim for new dam on Crystal River,” April, 2011

The Andersen Ranch Arts Center is one of the valley’s top nonprofit organizations. Credit: Source: Andersen Ranch

5. An in-depth story and a first-ever searchable database with information about local nonprofit organization’s revenue and salaries, with information gleaned from a ProPublica database of tax returns.

A. “Giving Big: Aspen area nonprofits and their impact,” January, 2014

B.”Aspen nonprofits: the public data table,” January, 2014

The Lanese family in their employee housing unit at Aspen Highlands. Credit: Karl Wolfgang

6. An in-depth story and searchable database about who owns deed-restricted housing in Pitkin County.

A. “Build and let live: 40 years of affordable housing in Aspen,” May, 2014

B. “Who owns employee housing in Pitkin County?” May, 2014

The rationale behind Aspen School District’s Question 3A on the November ballot is not to erect new buildings or fix old ones, but to maintain the district’s existing programming and class sizes as district expenses outpace state funding. Credit: Aspen Times file

7. A series of stories about local school district management and finances, and 57 stories overall on schools and education in three years, from 2013 to 2015.

A.”School board candidates weigh in academics, finance and school culture,” October, 2015.

B. “Roots of Aspen School District Question 3A go back five years,” October, 2015

C. “Aspen school tax triumphs, incumbents re-elected,” November, 2015.

The platform for a potential Limelight hotel in Base Village. Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith / Aspen Journalism

8. A series of stories about the complex, and rapidly changing, financial structure and ownership of Base Village in the wake of the Great Recession, including 11 stories in 2011 and 2012.

A. “Related to NYC court on Base Village: It’s the banks’ fault,” November, 2011

B. “Germans weighing value of Base Village,” October, 2011

C.”Questions, and answers, about the Base Village deal,” May, 2012

If someone is working hard in Aspen’s West End with a shovel or a wheelbarrow or a piece of heavy equipment, there is a high likelihood they are Latino. Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith

9. An in-depth story in collaboration with Aspen Sojourner about Aspen’s local immigrant labor force, in 2018. It’s a subject we also covered in 2011.

A.”How are Aspen’s undocumented workers faring in today’s political climate?” July, 2018

B. “The slums of Aspen,” August, 2011

10. Two stories and searchable lists of the billionaires who own property in Pitkin County,

A. “The Aspen 50: billionaires of Pitkin County,” July, 2014

B. “The Aspen 50: Forbes billionaires in Pitkin County,” April, 2012

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...