Thompson Divide an important hunting ground | AspenTimes.com

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Thompson Divide an important hunting ground

Nathan Torres and his son hunting in the Thompson Divide.

In April 1905, just months after establishing the National Forest Service, President Theodore Roosevelt embarked on a monthlong hunting excursion up Divide Creek near Silt and deep into the heart of the region known as Thompson Divide, returning with at least 10 bears.

"The home of the bear is in the Divide Creek country," Glenwood's Avalanche Echo observed, "and has been for many years."

Towns have risen and fallen, mines shut down and petroleum wells sunken since then, but much of the land Roosevelt explored is still intact and provides a rich hunting ground every fall.

"The area identified by (the Thompson Divide Coalition) provides high-quality habitat for a variety of wildlife, including mule deer, elk, moose, black bear, lynx, native cutthroat trout, a variety of small mammals, and several raptor species," according to a summary compiled by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Thompson Divide stretches across numerous watersheds, straddles county lines and includes parts of four big-game-management units, making attempts to quantify the area's economic and recreational significance difficult but not impossible. An economic study, commissioned by the Thompson Divide Coalition and conducted by Denver-based BBC Research, estimates that the area supported around 18,000 elk-hunting days and 6,000 deer-hunting days per year, generating $6.8 million and directly or indirectly supporting 72 jobs.

Randy Melton, of Redstone-based Avalanche Outfitters, is one person making a living in the area. His outfit does guided trips year round and is particularly busy in the fall.

"It's very scenic, and there's phenomenal elk, deer and bear hunting. The grass is tall; the water's good. It's a very pristine and special place," Melton said. "It's definitely got a different character from Grand Mesa, which has got roads all over it. All our camps are a pretty good way from the road. We go where the elk go."

Melton estimated that around 60 hunters enlist Avalanche Outfitters' services for a hunt on Huntsman's Ridge above Coal Basin or in the upper reaches of Thompson Creek each autumn.

While most of the local hunters may follow the ongoing struggle between organizations like the Thompson Divide Coalition and companies like SG Interests and Ursa, which hold mineral leases in the area, most of Melton's clients aren't as familiar with it.

"Some of them are aware of the politics, but the vast majority of people I take are out-of-staters, so they don't hear all the local stuff," Melton said.

The influx of out-of-state hunters is a major boon for outfitters, who generally charge around $1,600 per person for a basic drop camp. Hunters also stop at the Roaring Fork Co-Op in Carbondale for licenses, gear and gas, and many make last-minute purchases at the Redstone General Store.

"It gives a huge shot in the arm to Redstone," Melton said. "The hunting industry brings in more than the ski industry."