Protected areas touted as driver of recreation economy
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — A slew of wilderness proposals for lands in Summit and Eagle counties that have been stuck in a gridlocked, do-nothing U.S. House of Representatives could gain traction in the Senate, where Mark Udall says he will introduce a wilderness bill once he’s taken input from local communities and other stakeholders.
“Starting today, I am kicking off a collaborative, community-driven process to listen to the community and create legislation to protect Colorado’s outdoor heritage in two very special places in our state – the Central Mountains and the Arkansas River Canyon,” Udall wrote on his blog.
He announced his wilderness bid Sunday during a press conference in Frisco, with the gleaming, snow-covered peaks of the Eagles Nest Wilderness as a backdrop. So far, the proposal doesn’t include much detail and it’s not clear whether the legislation would include so-called companion designations for some areas carved out by mountain bikers, who say they support wilderness but want to retain access to favored trails.
Such companion designations were discussed in the context of the Polis wilderness measure. The lands designated under those alternate designations are sometimes known as national recreation or national conservation areas, and still prevent most extractive uses while allowing a little more flexibility for recreation than the ironclad wilderness designation.
Udall has a well-deserved reputation as a wilderness advocate, and has made repeated efforts to fashion bipartisan support in an era of polarized politics.
While serving in the House of Representatives, Udall worked across party lines in 2002 to craft a deal that expanded the James Peak wilderness in the northern Front Range. Udall is an avid outdoorsman and served as a course director for Outward Bound in Colorado before starting his political career.
Links to maps of the proposed areas are online here.
Udall specifically is aiming at two areas, including many parcels identified in what was first called the Hidden Gems proposal, then later dubbed the Summit-Eagle Wilderness Act by U.S. Rep. Jared Polis’ stalled legislation in the House.
Udall’s second targeted area is along the Arkansas River and Browns Canyon, where the idea of a potential new wilderness area dates back to about 2005, based on another stalled measure in the House.
Udall touted new wilderness as a potential economic driver for Colorado, and said he hopes to get stakeholder consensus before drafting legislation. The collaborative process touted be Udall is, in some ways, a re-invention of the wheel, as Rep. Polis went through a similar process before introducing his legislation.
“By hearing your comments from the outset, I hope to develop a plan that a majority of the community agrees will support their interests and further develop Colorado’s booming recreation economy,” Udall wrote in his blog.
He garnered support from U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, who has also been working to advance a multi-parcel wilderness plan through Congress.
“As a fourth-generation Coloradoan, I know firsthand that Colorado’s beautiful lands are one of our state’s greatest resources. These special lands not only provide clean air, clean water and critical wildlife habitat, they help drive tourism as our state’s number one economic engine,” DeGette said in a press release.
“Coloradoans want to preserve their quality of life and their opportunities. With efforts in the U.S. House and now the U.S. Senate, our state’s precious lands are that much closer to being protected. I look forward to working with Senator Udall to set forth a balanced approach to protecting some of the last remaining wild places in Colorado.”