‘Gems’ backers offer aerial view of Vail area | AspenTimes.com

‘Gems’ backers offer aerial view of Vail area

Edward Stoner
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyThe Spraddle Creek wilderness is one of a number of areas in the Vail Valley that is included in the Hidden Gems wilderness proposal Friday over Vail.

EAGLE COUNTY, Colo. – Undisturbed mountain lands – that’s how Hidden Gems proponents described the proposed wilderness parcels during a flight over Eagle County and the Vail area Friday.

The Wilderness Workshop, organizers of the Hidden Gems proposal, and EcoFlight, an Aspen-based group that advocates for protection of wilderness, offered an airplane tour of the Hidden Gems lands for local media.

The proposal, which was recently submitted to Colorado’s Congressional delegation, would designate 244,000 acres in Eagle and Summit counties as wilderness.

The wilderness designation prohibits mining, commercial logging, oil and gas drilling, new roads, mountain biking, jeeps, snowmobiles and dirt bikes. It would still allow hiking, hunting, horseback riding and camping. Proponents say the land is important mid-elevation wildlife habitat.

But the plan has run into vocal opposition from snowmobilers and other users of motorized vehicles, who say the public lands should be open to all.

From the Eagle County Regional Airport, pilot Bruce Gordon flew his Cessna 210 north above the Gypsum mines – a type of activity that proponent Susie Kincade noted would be banned in Hidden Gems areas. Kincade also pointed to the rogue ATV trails that criss-cross the hills near Gypsum.

“That’s the kind of impact that’s going on on our public lands,” Kincade said.

The plane flew above Bull Gulch, a Bureau of Land Management-owned area of sagebrush, red dirt and steep cliffs that is included in the Hidden Gems proposal. From there, Gordon skirted the backside of Castle Peak and Pisgah Mountain – two more areas that are included in the plan.

Crossing above State Bridge, the plane crossed into the Lower Piney area, another Hidden Gems proposal area, where Kincade pointed to a 1,400-acre parcel that organizers removed from the plan as a concession to snowmobilers. Using a similar flight in February, organizers determined that the area was being used by snowmobilers, and eliminated it from the plan.

The nearby Spraddle Creek parcel, another Gems area, is comprised of snow-covered pine forests, and sits against the Gore Range and the Eagle’s Nest Wilderness.

Circling back above Vail and then downvalley, Gordon turned left at Edwards, flying above the forests of Squaw Creek, a portion of which is included in the proposal under the name “West Lake Creek.” The flight finished by swooping past Red Table Mountain, a vast snowy ridge that’s already being treated as wilderness by the Forest Service.

To become law, the Hidden Gems plan would have to be introduced as a bill by a member of the delegation and then get approval by both the House and Senate as well as the president.

Earlier this month, the Eagle County commissioners said they mostly support the Hidden Gems proposal, fully endorsing nine of the 14 parcels.