New push for Colorado wilderness expansion

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New wilderness is in the works for Eagle and Summit counties, in the mountains of Colorado.

Congress Jared Polis introduces land protection measure

Staff Report

FRISCO — A proposal for new Colorado wilderness areas is back on the political table in Washington, where Congressman Jared Polis introduced a new bill that ‚ if passed, would add more than 39,000 acres of land to the wilderness roster.

“The areas that stretch along the Continental Divide in Summit and Eagle counties are the iconic playground of our state,”  Polis said. “They are where Coloradans and out-of-state tourists alike go to ski, hike, mountain bike, hunt, and fish … and this bill will ensure they are preserved for future generations to enjoy,” he added.

According to Polis, the the Continental Divide Wilderness and Recreation Act will help sustain recreational resources, protect watersheds, preserve important wildfire corridors, and strengthen Colorado’s tourism economy.

Along with new wilderness, the bill would also designate 16,000 acres as special management areas for recreation, and where some other activities, including wildfire mitigation and forest health treatments would be permitted.

The legislation is a new iteration of previous measures going back many years to the original Hidden Gems campaign, a grassroots effort to identify potential wilderness.

“Coloradans love their public lands, and the Continental Divide Act would permanently protect some of our most superb wildlands that are critical to wildlife, recreation and forming our state’s scenic backdrop,” said Conservation Colorado director Pete Maysmith.

“Congressman Polis’ bill represents a welcomed evolution of land protection using a variety of tools to maximize protection while retaining quality trail access,” said Jason Bertolacci, regional director of the International Mountain Biking Association, which lobbied to keep some areas open for cycling.

The measure also got support from Colorado Springs, which operates water diversions in the area covered by the Polis bill.

Colorado Springs Utilities very much appreciates the collaborative spirit between Congressman Polis, the Wilderness Society, Conservation Colorado, and our staff here from Utilities in finding a reasonable solution of compromise in this legislation,” said Gary Bostrom, Colorado Springs Utilities chief water services officer.

Specifically, the proposal would create new wilderness areas in the Williams Fork Mountains, Tenmile Range, and Hoosier Ridge, as well as expand the existing Holy Cross, Eagles Nest, and Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness Areas.

The plan also would enhance outdoor recreation opportunities such as fishing, hunting, biking, and backcountry snow sports by creating an 11,500-acre Recreation Management Area along the Tenmile Range.

The proposal was drafted through an open, collaborative process with local stakeholders that not only maintained existing recreational uses, but also incorporated community values by accounting for future improvements.

Earlier this month Polis held a naming contest for the bill. The winning submission was suggested by Bob Waters, of Boulder.

Also earlier this month, Polis hosted the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Raul Grijalva, so he could tour the proposed protection areas first-hand and hear from local leaders about the importance of the bill. During that meeting, Grijalva called the bill “a precedent-setter.”

“The broad local support and buy-in behind this bill is incredibly impressive. We’re going to make this a priority,” Grijalva said.

With his new seat on the House Natural Resources Committee and Grijalva’s engagement on the issue, Polis is optimistic about moving the bill through Congress this session. The recent successes in protecting Hermosa Creek and Browns Canyon demonstrate Colorado’s commitment to preserving its open spaces and this bill’s passage would be a logical next step in that chain of events.

Full breakdown of proposal area:

 

Wilderness:

  • Acorn Creek, 1,139 acres (Summit County)
  • Hoosier Ridge, 5,182 acres (Summit County)
  • Ptarmigan Additions, 2,266 acres (Summit County)
  • Tenmile, 7,577 acres (Summit County)
  • Ute Pass, 2,944 acres (Summit County)
  • Williams Fork, 9,338 acres (Summit County)
  • Freeman Creek, 1,175 acres (Eagle County)
  • Spraddle Creek, 5,907 acres (Eagle County)
  • No Name, 3,942 acres (Eagle County)

TOTAL: 39,470 acres

 

Special Management Area:

  • Tenmile North, 6,991 acres (Recreation area, Summit)
  • Tenmile South, 4,426 acres (Recreation area, Summit)
  • Porcupine Gulch, 5,204 acres (Summit)

TOTAL: 16,621 acres

Potential Wilderness Addition:

  • Spraddle Creek Potential, 2,338 acres (Eagle)

TOTAL: 2,338 acres

The Continental Divide Wilderness and Recreation Act is endorsed by the following groups, organizations, and businesses:

Eagle County, Summit County, Town of Vail, Town of Breckenridge, Colorado Springs Utilities, Vail Resorts, Xcel Energy, Arapahoe Basin Ski Resort, International Mountain Bicycling Association, Access Fund, Conservation Colorado, People for Bikes, Public Land Solutions, International Mountain Bicycling Association, Outdoor Industry Association, Wilderness Workshop, The Wilderness Society, Vet Voice Foundation, Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center, Sierra Club,, Sierra Club – Rocky Mountain Chapter, The Wilderness Society, The Wilderness Society – Colorado Chapter, League of Conservation Voters, Pew Charitable Trusts, Alpine Accents, Frisco Liquors Inc., Summit Travel, Anew You , Moose, Jaw Restaurant, Frisco Wine Merchant, House of Signs, Inc., Deli Belly’s, Frisco Fun and Formal, Smokn’ Bra Little Beans Boutique, The Jumping Tree, Abbey’s Coffee, Art Supply Breck, Boutique Bling, Timeless Collections, b’s Modern Mountain Apothecary, Bella Design and Planning, Breckenridge Bead Gallery, Big City Blues Clothing, Flourish, Vertical Runner, Slopestyle, The Mountain Goat Clothing Company, Columbine Bakery, Haute Route Gear and Apparel, Skea Ltd., Bloomingvails, Gorsuch Ltd., Ptarmigan Sports, Crazy Mountain Brewery, Minick Construction, Vail Valley Anglers, Riverwalk Natural Health Clinic and Pharmacy, Mary Lynn Gillaspie Photography, Nina’s Flowers, Ville de Luxe Boutique, The Walnut Gallery, By Chance Shoppe, Gifts at Cooper’s Corner, Found Underground Consignments, Gifted Hands Gallery, Little Horse Books and Vintage, The Book Cellar, SoFlo Glass LLC., Faith Davis Massage and Yoga, Trident Booksellers and Café, Nomad Bead Merchants, Two Hands Paperie, Rocky Mountain Anglers, Bedell and Co., Colorado Ocean Coalition, Justins LLC., Ripstop Repairs, Spork and Ladle, LLC., Eco-Products, Powder7.com, Vision Ridge Partners, High Country Dogs

 

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