Hidden Gems backers strike deal with climbing community
December 17, 2009
ASPEN – The proponents of the Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign agreed Wednesday to remove some lands from their proposal to avoid a battle with rock climbers.
The Hidden Gems’ boundaries will be adjusted so popular climbing areas along the north side of Highway 82 on the way up Independence Pass, southeast of Aspen, won’t be included in the proposal. Other boundaries will be adjusted in the Assignation Ridge and Hayes Creek areas of the Crystal Valley drainage, the Wilderness campaign and Roaring Fork Climbers’ Coalition announced in a joint press release.
The exact acreage that will be withdrawn from the Hidden Gems proposal wasn’t available Wednesday.
“Those were sacrifices we swallowed hard for,” said Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of Wilderness Workshop, a group heading the effort to add roughly 400,000 acres of Wilderness in western Colorado.
The areas of compromise include a sheer face known as the Grottos Wall or Grottos Cliff – a highly visible area immediately adjacent to the highway southeast of Aspen, said Michael Kennedy, a representative of the climbers’ coalition.
Climbers wanted to preserve the right to use power drills to install bolts in rock faces. Use of power tools is prohibited in Wilderness.
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The accord was reached after 18 months or so of negotiations. An alternative protection, loosely known as a special management area, will be sought for the areas removed, Shoemaker said. An alternative protection will preserve the climbers’ rights while preventing any type of development.
The two sides “agreed to disagree” on the status of a popular climbing fin of rock in the Thompson Creek area, in Carbondale’s back yard, Kennedy said. The Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign didn’t want to surrender land around the fin because the Bureau of Land Management considers it to have important geologic and Wilderness attributes, Shoemaker said. The climbers didn’t want to surrender a popular area they already use.
Kennedy said the climbers’ coalition will send a letter outlining the areas of agreement to the Pitkin County commissioners and Colorado’s congressional delegation. The letter will not address the broader Hidden Gems proposal.
“The Roaring Fork Climbers’ Coalition is not endorsing the whole 400,000-acre proposal,” Kennedy said. There isn’t a consensus among the coalition’s members.
Kennedy estimated there are 15 to 20 climbers comprising the core of the coalition and 80 to 100 total members. There are significantly more people interested in the issue because the Roaring Fork Valley has a long history as a popular climbing area, he said.
The Hidden Gems proposal ran into opposition last summer once details of the plan became widely known. There have been well-publicized tussles with groups representing mountain bikers, snowmobilers and off-road motorized vehicle enthusiasts. There is also widespread support for the Wilderness plan.
Wednesday’s accord was significant for Wilderness Workshop because it marked the successful negotiation with an influential stakeholder group. “This announcement underscores how this process can work to a successful conclusion,” Shoemaker said.
There might have been extra incentive to reach an agreement with climbers. Shoemaker said the climbing community includes some longtime, influential valley residents. He said Pitkin County officials indicated they wanted to see a resolution with the climbers. The county is scheduled to determine its official position on Hidden Gems in early 2010.
Kennedy said he never talked to any county commissioners about the climbers’ beef with Hidden Gems. He was unaware that county officials specified they wanted the dispute with climbers resolved.
Although the accord required Hidden Gems proponents to whittle lands from the proposal, Shoemaker said the broader concept is alive and well.
“In terms of the integrity of the proposal, it doesn’t have much effect at all,” he said of the withdrawn boundaries.