Companion designations proposed to protect mountain bike access
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Just a few days before Congressman Jared Polis holds a Summit County hearing on the Hidden Gems wilderness plan, the Summit Fat Tire Society and wilderness advocates said they will work together on a plan for companion designations to protect lands outside the proposed wilderness boundary.
The June 4 open house on the wilderness proposal is set for 12 p.m. at CMC in Breckenridge.
The partnership between the local mountain bike group and the wilderness backers aims to protect access to existing mountain bike trails and allow for development of new trails in the future, while preventing commercial development, logging, mining and motorized use.
Under the proposed companion designations, areas directly adjacent to wilderness would get a special status as part of the wilderness bill. The designations would allow for more flexible management than formal wilderness status, and have worked well in other parts of the country, according to Ralph Swain, regional wilderness coordinator for the U.S. Forest Service.
Swain singled out a 61,000-acre area near Missoula, Montana, where user groups worked together to designate the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and Wilderness. The National Recreation Area provides opportunities for recreation close to Missoula and also serves as a buffer to the core wilderness area, Swain said.
The Summit Fat Tire Society and the Hidden Gems campaigners will ask Congressman Jared Polis to add the companion areas to any legislation he proposes regarding the Hidden Gems proposal.
The Hidden Gems Wilderness Proposal seeks wilderness designation for 43,000 acres of public lands in Summit County. When an area is designated wilderness, it is protected from logging, mining and energy development. Hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, horseback riding and other forms of non-mechanized recreation are permitted in wilderness areas. Mountain biking, snowmobiling, OHVs and other forms of mechanized and motorized travel are not allowed.
“This is a thoughtful way to expand the amount of protected lands in Summit County,” said Mike McCormack, of the Summit Fat Tire Society. “Together we’ve created areas that are protected, allow mountain biking and also supplement the wilderness proposed by Hidden Gems.”
McCormack said the dialogue between mountain bikers and the wilderness group has been challenging at times, but that the collaboration could set an example for other communities.
“We need more voices in the call for enhanced protections for our public lands, not less,” McCormack said.
Hidden Gems would add about 43,000 acres of new wilderness in Summit County.
“We appreciate all the time that the Summit Fat Tire Society has put into identifying companion areas to our proposed wilderness, and working with us to make it all fit,” said Kurt Kunkle, Summit County coordinator for Hidden Gems. “They’ve provided great leadership and made this collaboration possible.”
The companion protections are adjacent to several of the proposed wilderness areas in Hidden Gems, including lands to the north or the proposed Ten Mile Wilderness Area and along the western edge of the proposed Hoosier Ridge Wilderness at the southern end of the county. These would be the first significant pieces of wilderness near Breckenridge. The area is important to mountain bikers because it contains mountain bike staples such as the Wheeler Trail as well, as significant tracts of land along the Ten Mile not originally included in the proposal.
Other national forest lands proposed for companion designation include areas around Ptarmigan, Porcupine Gulch, Acorn Creek and Ute Pass.