Colorado celebration marks making park wilderness |

Colorado celebration marks making park wilderness

Judith Kohler
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK, Colo. ” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar joined Colorado lawmakers, business and conservation leaders Thursday to celebrate the designation of Rocky Mountain National Park’s new wilderness area after 35 years of work.

The park and other Colorado sites were among more than 2 million acres in nine states set aside as protected wilderness in a bill signed March 30 by President Barack Obama.

Salazar told about 200 people that in other times of crisis, former presidents, including Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, had worked to preserve the nation’s natural heritage, including creating national parks and wildlife refuges.

“It’s very appropriate, it seems to me, that at this point in our history we stand up and we say we will refuel our spirit, refuel our strengths by celebrating the landscapes of America,” Salazar declared.

Salazar, a Democrat, was a Colorado senator when he and former Sen. Wayne Allard, a Republican, announced a compromise bill in 2007 to designate about 250,000 acres ” about 95 percent of the park ” as wilderness. President Richard Nixon first suggested protecting the park in 1974.

Various disputes stalled making it wilderness, including the operation of a privately owned irrigation ditch that predates the park. Surrounding communities were concerned that a wilderness designation would block public access to parts of the park and prevent logging to reduce wildfire risk.

Allard sponsored a bill in the 1980s that included wilderness designation for the park. Former Rep. David Skaggs introduced a bill in 1994 that contained much of what is in the law signed by Obama.

Steve Smith, deputy regional director of The Wilderness Society, worked on the wilderness bill while on Skaggs’ staff. He said the park is a great example of the intent of the federal wilderness act.

“It’s big country, with all its ecological robustness,” Smith said. “It’s also close to people, it’s familiar, a place that people cherish.”

The wilderness area includes 14,259-foot Longs Peak and the remote Mummy Range.

Allard accompanied Salazar Thursday, as did Colorado U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet and Rep. Betsy Markey.

Udall’s grandfather Roe Emery was the first concessionaire in Rocky Mountain National Park and part owner of the historic Stanley Hotel in nearby Estes Park. Udall is an accomplished mountain climber and has skied the backcountry in the area.

“This place has taught me more than I can truly express,” Udall said.

Roughly 1,000 acres will be added to the Indian Peaks Wilderness south of the park, keeping the land free of logging, mining and vehicles.

Park spokeswoman Kyle Patterson said the wilderness designation adds a layer of protection. She said visitors won’t notice a difference: Roads and trails will stay open.

Most of the park has been managed as wilderness since the National Park Service recommended the designation.

Rocky Mountain National Park, about 70 miles northwest of Denver, is Colorado’s No. 1 tourist attraction.

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