Garfield County undecided on DeGette bill, for now
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The elected leaders of Garfield County this week decided not to decide about supporting a proposed wilderness designation for Assignation Ridge near Carbondale.
Instead, they urged those who are opposing the wilderness bill, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, to try one more time to arrive at some acceptable compromise with her.
If all goes as anticipated, the county commissioners will decide at a meeting on Aug. 16 whether to support DeGette’s bill.
At the commissioners’ Aug. 9 meeting, Commissioner Tresi Houpt made a motion to send a letter of support for the DeGette legislation.
Houpt said that the congresswoman has cut out “a huge portion” of Garfield County land proposed for wilderness designation, including the controversial Roan Plateau and an area popular with mountain bikers along one side of Assignation Ridge, known for years as the Tall Pines trail.
Commissioner John Martin, however, objected to Houpt’s motion. He argued that for DeGette, who represents a district without any wilderness in it, to try to put wilderness protections on nearly 900,000 acres all over Colorado, is “the wrong approach.”
He suggested that DeGette should excise the Assignation Ridge area from her bill and “let it stand on its own as a bill,” and that she should then work with local organizations and governments to whip up support.
“That’s what we’ve been doing, John,” said Houpt quietly, as Martin made multiple arguments about why Garfield County should not line up behind DeGette’s bill.
“This is the first time she’s come to Garfield County” to discuss the bill, Martin protested.
Houpt replied that, before this year, DeGette’s legislation has had little chance of passage, which is why she never arranged to come to this area.
“We’re both met with her several times” in Washington, D.C., and other locales to discuss the bill, Houpt told Martin, as Martin himself later acknowledged.
Several mountain biking enthusiasts told the county they wanted a northern portion of the ridge left out of the bill.
Todd Fugate, of the Roaring Fork Mountain Biking Association, told the board that the Red Hill trails area north of Carbondale served 55,000 users, on bike and on foot, over the course of 2009.
If the DeGette bill closes the Assignation Ridge trails, which currently are open to motorized as well as nonmotorized uses, Fugate said, it will put unacceptable pressure on the other trail systems in the area.
But area resident Suzie Ellison, who said she is a mountain biker, hiker, backpacker and all-around user of the back country, urged the BOCC to back DeGette’s bill.
Referring to “big W wilderness” and “little w wilderness” as two very different levels of preservation, she said, “There’s values you can get out of big W what we’ll never get out of little w.”
Calling the Assignation Ridge area “pretty special,” she said it would be best for a number of interests to preserve it now instead of waiting.
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A small group of relay participants was walking with a purpose when it passed through Aspen on Tuesday evening for their 3,900-mile journey through the Great Plains and Mountain West.