Eagle County mostly supports Hidden Gems | AspenTimes.com

Eagle County mostly supports Hidden Gems

Matt Zalaznick
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colo. – Eagle County’s commissioners say in a letter that they support most of the Hidden Gems wilderness proposal but some lands marked for this strictest level of protection should remain open to snowmobilers, water suppliers and other groups.

The commissioners sent a letter to Rep. Jared Polis, whose district includes the Vail area, laying out their position on each Eagle County parcel proposed for protection.

The commissioners said they support making nine of parcels federally protected wilderness and opposed protection for one. On six other parcels, the commissioners said they want to see some adjustments before giving their support.

“It could look like we were heavily in favor of wilderness side,” Commissioner Peter Runyon. “Our response would have been very different if (the Hidden Gems campaign) hadn’t been so accommodating on many of these areas.”

One area the commissioners want to see adjusted is near the Piney River north of Vail.

“That’s an area that the ATV folks have historically enjoyed,” Runyon said. “That’s where real boundary work could improve that property.”

Jack Albright, of the White River Forest Alliance, would also like more Piney River land remain open to snowmobilers, hunters and others. His group represents people concerned about access to federal land, he says.

He said he appreciated Eagle County’s effort to break down each parcel though he doesn’t agree with all their conclusions.

“One thing that’s always a little bit bothersome, in almost every single category when they list threats to wilderness quality they list motorized use as a threat,” said Albright, who lives in southwestern Eagle County. “Most mechanized and motorized use, if done responsibly, I don’t think they’re a huge threat.”

Polis has been asked to introduce a bill in Congress to create wilderness in Eagle and Summit counties. His office says he plans to hold public hearings on the plan in the coming months.