Eagle County trails group backs most of Hidden Gems | AspenTimes.com

Eagle County trails group backs most of Hidden Gems

Sarah Mausolf
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

The ECO Trails Committee recently endorsed 88 percent of the proposed Hidden Gems wilderness areas in Eagle County, or about 173,521 acres.

EAGLE COUNTY, Colo. – A committee that advises Eagle County officials on trails in Colorado’s Vail area has weighed in on Hidden Gems.

The ECO Trails Committee recently endorsed 88 percent of the proposed wilderness areas in Eagle County, or about 173,521 acres, according to a recent news release.

For the remaining 12 percent of the land, the committee called for less restrictive level of protection that would allow mountain biking.

Hidden Gems is a proposal to designate as wilderness about 400,000 acres of federal lands in Summit, Eagle, Pitkin and Gunnison counties. If passed, it would close those lands to motorized and mechanized recreation, like snowmobiling and mountain biking.

Although the final decision on Hidden Gems would rest in Washington, the Hidden Gems campaign has asked Eagle County and other local governments in the region to support the plan. No date has been set for the county commissioners to offer a recommendation on Hidden Gems, Commissioner Peter Runyon said.

The ECO Trails Committee is a county-appointed advisory board that makes recommendations to the commissioners on trail development in Eagle County. It outlined its stance on Hidden Gems in a recent letter to the commissioners.

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“It will certainly be part of my decision,” Runyon said. “What I really want to do is get a more global solution for the entire Western Slope.”

Runyon has been pushing for a bipartisan task force to gather testimony from stakeholders affected by Hidden Gems, along with a wilderness plan from Denver Rep. Diana DeGette and wilderness legislation thought to be coming from Rep. John Salazar’s office by the end of 2010.

ECO Trails cited a variety of reasons why it did not want certain lands designated as wilderness. It wanted some lands excluded because popular trails cross through them; others were too close to densely populated areas like Vail, the ECO Trails letter said.

ECO Trails calls for that land to receive a designation such as a National Conservation Area or National Protection Area, according to the news release. That would allow some level of protection but permit future trail development for mountain bikes and other recreation, the release said.

The committee also recommends boundary changes to five swaths of proposed wilderness land, but suggested holding off on that decision until the U.S. Forest Service completes its travel management plan for the White River National Forest, the release said.

Over the course of two years of review with ECO Trails, Hidden Gems removed about 6,100 acres of proposed wilderness from its proposal in response to the committee’s concerns, the release said.

“We’ve negotiated to a point where Hidden Gems won’t close any mountain bike trails in Eagle County that aren’t slated for closure by the Forest Service with its pending preferred travel management plan,” said Susie Kincade, Eagle County Hidden Gems coordinator, said in the release.

Hidden Gems officials hope to submit a wilderness bill to a congressional sponsor early next year, Kincade said.

smausolf@vaildaily.com

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