Garfield commissioner trying to bring Gems foes together | AspenTimes.com

Garfield commissioner trying to bring Gems foes together

John Colson
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

Tresi Houpt

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Opponents of a wilderness-designation proposal for public lands in this region want to have a pow-wow with those in favor of the proposal.

And a Garfield County commissioner has agreed to try to put together a meeting regarding the proposed Hidden Gems wilderness designations, although most of the areas in question are not within her county.

Commissioner Tresi Houpt agreed this week to set up a meeting that would include various sides of the debate, including various user groups who say they have been left out of the process so far.

The request for the meeting came from Sean Martin, president of the Mt. Sopris Recreational Riders snowmobiling group, and Tony Fisher, president of the White River Forest Alliance (WRFA), both headquartered in Carbondale.

The Wilderness Workshop, also in Carbondale, is heading a coalition of environmental groups that wants to secure special protection for approximately 400,000 acres of public lands – U.S. Forest Service as well as Bureau of Land Management – in Pitkin, Eagle, Garfield, Gunnison and Summit counties. Wilderness designation closes public land to motorized and mechanized users, but not to hikers and equestrians.

The Garfield portion of the whole, according to the Wilderness Workshop, is 1,686 acres.

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“These acres are in the Barber Gulch area in the very northern tip of the BLM Thompson Creek portion of the larger Assignation Ridge proposal area,” reported Sloan Shoemaker, director of the Wilderness Workshop. “It is adjacent to the WRNF’s recommended wilderness of Assignation Ridge to the south of main-stem Thompson Creek.”

“What I would like,” said Martin, “is more transparency in the process.”

He noted that the Wilderness Workshop worked for more than a year with the Roaring Fork Mountain Biking Association, which also opposes the Hidden Gems proposal.

But, Martin said, “Until a month ago, we didn’t know this thing even existed. We have some catching up to do.”

Martin said there are more than 2,000 snowmobiles registered in Garfield County, whose voices have not been heard regarding the Hidden Gems proposal.

Shoemaker, however, sees the matter differently.

“We welcome dialogue,” said Shoemaker, who has been working since 2003 on the matter. “We’ve been asking those groups to meet with us, and they’ve so far declined our invitation. If we can have a dialogue, resolving conflicts, that’s something we want to do.”

He said some of the “motorized community” were at meetings he held last summer with the Frying Pan Caucus – homeowners in the Fryingpan River Valley – and that they had complained then of being left out of the process.

“Each time, we said, invite us to your meetings,” Shoemaker recalled, but it never happened.

Jack Albright, vice president of the WRFA, explained that his organization, too, wants to get in on the debate.

“Our intent is to represent the multiple user,” he said, referring to the White River National Forest theme, “Land of Many Uses.”

Albright defined the multiple user as “mountain bikers, dirt bikers, snowmobilers,” essentially “anybody who’s opposed to the proposal, to additional wilderness.”

Both Albright and Martin said they support the USFS proposal for an additional 82,000 acres of wilderness in the White River National Forest. About 750,000 acres of the 2.3 million-acre WRNF are currently designated wilderness.

“That went through a substantial vetting process” with lots of public input, Albright said of the USFS wilderness proposal, while agreeing with Martin that the Hidden Gems proposal was not “transparent” enough.

He maintained that opponents to Hidden Gems do not necessarily oppose the goal of limiting energy and other development in Colorado’s remaining wild areas.

But, he said, opponents would prefer another designation, such as “national recreation area” or some other category that would permit a greater variety of users.

Houpt said the county staff is working on a recommendation for how a meeting should be arranged.

For example, she is unsure whether it should be a formal hearing before the board of county commissioners or simply a public gathering somewhere.

“I think a lot of people in this area would like more information,” she said, adding, “We want to make sure that it is a productive meeting.”

jcolson@postindependent.com