‘Old Broads’ take on the wilderness
July 11, 2009
CARBONDALE – At 51 and still working a regular job for a living, Cristina Harmon doesn’t consider herself an “Old Broad” just yet, though she’s not quite a “Training Broad” anymore either.
The Steamboat Springs resident and daughter of one of the original founders of the Great Old Broads for Wilderness advocacy group managed to cut loose from her busy life to join this weekend’s Colorado Hidden Gems “Broadwalk.” It’s her first Broadwalk in the six years since first joining the group.
About 30 members of the Great Old Broads for Wilderness, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, is working with members of the Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign through Sunday to hike and help inventory areas west of the Crystal River Valley that are proposed for wilderness designation.
During their stay at the Bogan Flats Campground near Marble, their agenda also includes a variety of speakers from local organizations who are part of the wilderness campaign and related causes.
“I’ve always been an active hiker and involved with environmental issues,” said Harmon, who was with a group of about a half dozen hikers headed into the Thompson Creek area via the Perham Creek trail Friday morning. The group was all-female, except for their guide, noted outdoorsman/adventurist and author Aron Ralston.
“I wanted to experience first-hand the nurturing value of wilderness,” Harmon said. “Especially on the West Slope of Colorado, a lot of areas are under attack by oil and gas development.”
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Several undeveloped gas leases exist on public lands in the headwaters of Thompson Creek, an otherwise rugged, remote, pristine landscape with wilderness qualities, though not officially designated as such.
“I want to see these areas set aside for future generations, instead of developing them for what will soon be an obsolete form of energy,” Harmon said.
Another member of the group, Joan Vandenbos, 62, admitted she was a little offended by the group’s name when she first heard about it from a friend in Arizona where she lives.
“She was retired and looking for ways to get more active, and suggested I join as well,” Vandenbos said. “I’ve since come to understand that the name is very clever.
“Humor is a big part of what we’re about, but we also do serious work collecting very viable data – we aren’t just a bunch of emotional people standing out there with signs.”
The Great Old Broads For Wilderness is comprised primarily of older women whose mission is “to protect and preserve wilderness and wild lands using the voices and activism of elders.”
Most of its 4,000 or so members are over 40, “but anybody can be a broad,” said the group’s executive director, Veronica Egan, who is also part of this weekend’s local visit. “Broadness is a state of mind.”
Men can join; they’re referred to as “Great Old Bros,” Egan said. “Our younger members are referred to as ‘Training Broads.'”
Based in Durango, the group was founded in 1989 as a response to political rhetoric that claimed wilderness was a bad idea because older Americans couldn’t access public lands without roads.
“We strongly believe as mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers that our children, grandchildren, and all future generations need wild lands for the sustainable future of humanity – and we will advocate for wilderness protection whether we can access those wild lands or not,” according to the group’s website, http://www.greatoldbroads.org.
The group usually has two Broadwalks a year. A Broadwalk is a four-day outing to a place where members learn about wilderness issues particular to a specific area through exploratory hikes and special speakers.
“We’ve had Broadwalks across the country, from Vermont to Washington state,” said Egan, from Durango, who has been part of the organization for 18 years and its executive director for the past 7 1/2 years.
“We’re working with the Wilderness Workshop (one of the Hidden Gems campaign partners based in Carbondale) to inventory some of the proposed wilderness additions, and generally learn about and enjoy the area,” she said. “We also have speakers from land management agencies and other groups. And, if we can, we always try to get people on the other side of the issues.
The Hidden Gems campaign proposes several hundred thousand acres of new wilderness on Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands. While much of the existing wilderness in the White River National Forest, such as the Flat Tops, Maroon Bells-Snowmass and Holy Cross, are at higher elevations, the proposed Gems areas are mainly at more ecologically diverse middle elevations, according to the Wilderness Workshop website.
Four separate hiking groups headed into the backcountry Friday to do inventory work using cameras and GPS monitoring, making note of special attributes and any evidence of illegal activities, such as motorized vehicle use.
Saturday’s itinerary includes a bird hike up the Hay Park trail, and more inventory work along Huntsman Ridge west of Redstone.
Lynn Parker, 60, of Rhode Island, and Jane Bouterse, 66, of Texas, both learned of Great Old Broads for Wilderness when they read about it in the American Association for Retired Persons magazine.
“It’s a great way to meet some exciting and very committed people who aren’t letting age stand in their way,” Bouterse said.
Added Parker, “Beyond being passionate, we’re savvy and we know how to write our senators and get things done.”
Great Old Broads for Wilderness hosts a 20th anniversary celebration Broadwalk in the Escalante Canyon area of Utah in early October.
Local chapters of the organization, including one in the Roaring Fork Valley, are called Broadbands. To find out about the local group, contact Karen Ryman in Aspen at 925-6499.