Pitkin County, DeGette to talk Wilderness | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County, DeGette to talk Wilderness

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

AP fileRep. Diana DeGette will meet this week with Pitkin County commissioners.

CARBONDALE – U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette and a couple of Pitkin County commissioners will saddle up this week to take a look at lands in the Thompson Creek area, outside of Carbondale, that the congresswoman has proposed as Wilderness.

The unusual, horseback site visit is expected to include DeGette and some of her staff, and commissioners Jack Hatfield and George Newman.

DeGette, a Denver Democrat, is on a fact-finding mission outside of her district to seek input on elements of her Colorado Wilderness Act of 2009, according to a staffer in her office. The legislation proposes designation of 34 areas comprised of 850,000 acres in Colorado as wilderness. Most of the land is currently managed by either the Bureau of Land Management or U.S. Forest Service, and is spread across the southwest quadrant of the state.

DeGette will meet with commissioners Tuesday at 3:15 p.m. in their meeting room in the Pitkin County Courthouse annex building, and then visit the Assignation Ridge/Thompson Creek area, southwest of Carbondale, on Wednesday.

The congresswoman’s office has arranged the horseback trip, according to County Manager Hilary Fletcher, but commissioners will be asked Tuesday if the county should pay the bill for its participants, she said. The county’s insurance carrier has also been apprised of the unusual activity, Fletcher said.

The discussion Tuesday will focus on the two pieces of DeGette’s bill that involve Pitkin County lands – a small piece that borders the east side of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area and the Thompson Creek/Assignation Ridge parcel.

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In both cases, there is overlap with the Hidden Gems campaign to designate various lands in Pitkin County as Wilderness. The Gems proposal includes a number of other areas in both Pitkin County and surrounding counties; DeGette’s plan includes other areas, as well, but no others in Pitkin County.

Both proposals include the small piece of Eagle Mountain adjacent to the Maroon Bells-Snowmass area and west of Snowmass Village. DeGette’s proposal covers 316 acres while the Gems proposal outlines 320 acres of steep, mountainside terrain ranging from an elevation of 8,300 feet along Snowmass Creek to 9,937 feet atop Eagle Mountain.

The larger Thompson Creek piece encompasses 25,285 acres in DeGette’s proposal, configured in a long strip to the west of Highway 133 between Carbondale and Redstone. A small piece on the north end is in Garfield County. The area takes in the Braderich Creek Trail and would exclude mountain bikers from the trail if it becomes Wilderness.

The Gems proposal for the area includes 21,193 acres. Gems proponents removed the Braderich Creek Trail, along the area’s western boundary, at the request of the Roaring Fork Mountain Biking Association. Adjustments to the Gems proposal were also made to accommodate the use of power drills for bolted climbing routes along Highway 133, which also isn’t allowed in Wilderness. Finally, more than 4,400 acres were removed from the Gems proposal at the request of the North Thompson Cattleman’s Association.

Both proposals, however, would protect as Wilderness the lower Thompson Creek Canyon with its unusual sandstone slabs, or fins, and the roadless area on the ridge, also identified as potential Wilderness by the White River National Forest. The elevation, according to Gems documents, ranges from 6,700 feet at the Crystal River to 10,614 feet on the ridge, which forms the divide between the river and South Thompson Creek.

Elsewhere on the Western Slope, a draft of DeGette’s bill released last October included 40,000 acres on the Roan Plateau, much of which has been leased for oil and gas development.

That acreage was removed in a version of the bill introduced last December.

For more on DeGette’s proposal, go to http://degette.house.gov/ and click on the Colorado Wilderness Act link.

janet@aspentimes.com