Ralston endorses Hidden Gems plan | AspenTimes.com

Ralston endorses Hidden Gems plan

Sarah Mausolf
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

CVR Hidden Gems KA 10-26-09

AVON, Colo. – Former Aspenite Aron Ralston, who said he’s explored most of the land that would become protected wilderness under the Hidden Gems proposal, spoke in favor of the Hidden Gems during a press conference Monday at Fly Fishing Outfitters in Avon.

Ralston was the first person to climb all of Colorado’s 14ers solo in winter. He fell into the national spotlight in 2003 when he was forced to cut off the lower part of his arm after it was trapped under a boulder during a mountaineering trip in Utah.

Ralston joined a local hunter and an avid mountain biker at the press conference to voice support for preserving more than 400,000 acres in Eagle, Summit, Pitkin and Gunnison counties. The plan would close those lands to snowmobiles, ATVs, mountain bikes, and other motorized and mechanized vehicles. The press conference sought to rebut claims by some opponents that Hidden Gems will hurt the local economy and prevent a large percentage of visitors from using the land for recreation.

Ralston lamented the damage he said motorized vehicles have made to wilderness. He said frequent and often illegal use of motorized vehicles has carved ruts into trails and eroded hillsides.

“That happens everywhere, and the longer we wait to protect the places that we have left, the less there is to protect,” he said.

Ralston said some of the best memories of his adult life have happened in remote areas like those earmarked in the Hidden Gems plan.

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He remembered spotting wolves on the west side of Mount Massive.

“Here come three full-sized wolves down the hillside within less than 100 feet of me as I’m emerging into a willow flat,” he said. “Looking over, they don’t even see me yet. They’re charging, playing, they’re romping down the hillside. It’s totally out of ‘Where the Wild Things Are.'”

Hidden Gems also got support from longtime hunter Jim Gonzalez, a Minturn resident and former chairman of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. He argues that Hidden Gems will protect mid-level elevation areas where wildlife feed.

“I think the biggest threat is: Colorado is growing so fast,” he said. “All these people come here with their snowmobiles, mountain bikes, ATVs. They all want a piece of the pie, and they’re not making any more wilderness.”

Jack Albright, vice president of the White River Forest Alliance, a group opposed to Hidden Gems, said he was surprised to hear about a hunter in favor of the campaign.

“The Hidden Gems proposal is going to make that land hard to access for hunters,” he said. “A lot of those hunters hunt in terrain that may be wilderness areas but they use mechanized means to get there. There are a lot of guys who use ATVs to get back to the edge of wilderness and then hunt into terrain.”

But Gonzalez argues that ATVs chase wildlife away and reduce the success rate for hunters. And he says dedicated hunters are willing to hike into wilderness to access it.

Edwards resident Lee Rimel, an avid mountain biker, said if Hidden Gems passes, plenty of land will be left for cyclists.

“From my very simplistic point of view, it looks like there’s enough to go around,” Rimel said.

smausolf@vaildaily.com