Most local communities and stakeholders supportive of plan; Boulder-based mountain bike group still has reservations about a few areas
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Just a few hours before Congress went into recess for the election season, Rep. Jared Polis, a Boulder Democrat, finally introduced a bill that would add about 166,000 acres of national forest land to the federal wilderness system.
The measure is based on a citizen-generated plan that’s long been called the Hidden Gems proposal. That name has been stripped away, as were several large chunks of land — after off-roaders and snowmobilers expressed concern over their loss of access to public lands.
Polis said the measure now has widespread support.
“Colorado’s wild places are the heart of our state’s character and our state’s natural beauty is itself a precious resource that we must preserve,” he said. “These areas are essential to our economy and our environment, and through this legislation we can ensure that our beautiful areas continue to provide habitat for our diverse wildlife, opportunities to enjoy and appreciate the great outdoors, and jobs for local economies. After working extensively with stakeholders and examining the areas in question trail-by-trail, I am proud to introduce this legislation that has gained support and backing from the community.”
According to a press release, the legislation incorporates further discussions with area water providers, the Colorado National Guard, the Colorado Department of Transportation, the recreation community and conservationists to ensure that the legislation meets the long-term needs of these stakeholders. The next step in the legislative process is for the bill to be referred to the House Natural Resources Committee for review.
Some elected officials in Summit and Eagle counties offered statements of support.
“The vitality of our Mountain Resort economy flows from the natural environment around us and the balance between use and enjoyment and preservation of important lands,” said Eagle County Commissioner Jon Stavney. “Congressman Polis’ Eagle and Summit County Wilderness proposal has been tailored to help protect some of the more vulnerable lands adjacent to existing wilderness, while still leaving plenty of public lands for the mixed uses many of our residents enjoy. This is a real gift to future Eagle County residents.”
“Rep. Polis’ action today is a giant step forward in securing Colorado’s natural legacy,” said Summit County Commissioner Wilderness Karn Stiegelmeier. “The designation will help protect our remaining intact ecosystems, wildlife habitat and migration corridors. I applaud Congressman Polis, his dedicated staff, and the many groups of people doing the difficult work of reaching consensus.”
The Boulder-based International Mountain Bicycling Association also released a statement supporting most of the measure, but expressing lingering concerns over mountain biking areas in Summit County and near Vail. Read the IMBA statement here.
“Polis’s reshaped bill does not close any major mountain bike trails and establishes important new companion designations that protect riding opportunities,” said IMBA director Mike Van Abel, referring to certain areas that could be designated and national recreation areas. The idea is that those areas would remain open for non-motorized recreation but be protected from mining or other industrial uses and development.
“Our remaining concerns include expanding the size of bike-friendly designations in Summit County, and in addressing the pending Forest Service Travel Management Plan in Spraddle and West Lake Creeks, near Vail. IMBA believes the Wilderness designation is not appropriate for Spraddle Creek, as it’s so close to town. We will continue working on these issues as the bill progresses through Congress.”