Udall wilderness plan eyes Pitkin County | AspenTimes.com

Udall wilderness plan eyes Pitkin County

Scott CondonThe Aspen TimesAspen CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart/The Aspen TimesA building in the ghost town of Ruby, outside of Aspen, frames the view of mountains to the south. The area would be protected under a wilderness proposal brought forth by U.S. Sen. Mark Udall.

ASPEN – A proposal under consideration by U.S. Sen. Mark Udall could add more than 65,000 acres of wilderness in Pitkin County – if it gains enough public support.Udall announced Sunday he wants the public’s help in determining what lands in Pitkin, Eagle and Summit counties should receive the special protection the wilderness designation brings. He stressed his plan is just a starting point for discussion. His spokeswoman reiterated that point Monday.”This is the beginning of a very long road,” said Udall spokeswoman Tara Trujillo. Now all stakeholders will get to weigh in, she said.The senator wants land throughout the Roaring Fork basin examined as potential wilderness. The proposal includes lands from the rocky fins of the Thompson Creek area southwest of Carbondale to the high-alpine terrain south and west of the ghost town of Ruby near the Continental Divide.Portions of Thompson Divide would be off-limits to oil and gas companies under the proposal. A big horseshoe of land around the base of Mount Sopris would gain protection. The existing Maroon Bells-Snowmass, Collegiate Peaks and Hunter Fryingpan wilderness areas would be eligible for additions.In Pitkin County, Udall is using the Hidden Gems Wilderness Proposal as a template for discussion, according to his staff. Hidden Gems is a plan proposed by Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop and several allied conservation groups. It has sparked opposition from motorized-recreation groups. It also has earned numerous endorsements from forest user groups after several rounds of boundary adjustments by the proponents.The Hidden Gems proposal for Pitkin County seeks wilderness designation for 63,250 acres. In Eagle and Summit counties, Udall’s proposal mirrors the plan unveiled last year by U.S. Jared Polis.All told, Udall is considering wilderness designation in 32 areas covering nearly 236,000 in Pitkin, Eagle and Summit counties. Wilderness designation prohibits motorized and mechanized uses, though Udall noted that the lands would remain open to cattle grazing, fire fighting efforts and maintenance of watersheds. Most of the lands under consideration are in the White River National Forest. Some are managed by the Bureau of Land Management.The lands under discussion in Pitkin County are:• Crystal River, 5,744 acres on the east side of the Crystal River, north of Redstone;• Eagle Mountain, 315 acres held by the Bureau of Land Management west of Snowmass Creek Road, attached to the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness;• Hay Park, 5,278 acres and Hay Park East, 5,414 acres, to the north and northeast of the base of Mount Sopris;• Hayes Creek, 6,213 acres west of Highway 133 from the famous falls area south of Redstone and north of McClure Pass. What’s called Hayes Creek extends into the Thompson Divide area;• Hunter Creek, 2,799 acres; North Independent A, 4,493 acres; and North Independent B, 934 acres, on Smuggler Mountain and on steep terrain north of Highway 82. These would be additions to the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness;• Mormon Creek, 4,111 acres near the popular hiking destination of Mormon Lake. This would add to the Holy Cross Wilderness;• Ruby Lakes, 2,428 acres of spectacular high alpine terrain at the headwaters of Lincoln Creek. Terrain west of the ghost town of Ruby would be designated wilderness, including Anderson and Petroleum Lakes. Islands of privately-owned mining claims would remain unaffected by the designation;• Thompson Creek national forest lands, 13,276 acres, and Thompson Creek BLM, 6,970, west of Highway 133, west and southwest of Carbondale;• Wildcat Mountain, 5,922 acres, between Lenado to the south and Thomasville to the north;• Woods Lake, 1,565 acres in Pitkin County along with 7,053 in Eagle County, in the Upper Fryingpan River drainage.Although it’s outside of Pitkin County, the massive Red Table Mountain area at the head of the Fryingpan Valley is eyed as a possible special management area by Udall. Like Polis, he wants to protect it but also allow continued use for it as a High-Altitude Aviation Training Site. Udall’s plan discusses making 55,927 acres on Red Table a special management area.Trujillo said Udall and his staff will hold a series of meetings in coming months over the wilderness plan.Groups ranging from Wilderness Workshop to the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association expressed optimism about Udall’s plan.”Mostly we’re thrilled he said he’s going to start working on wilderness,” said Will Roush of Wilderness Workshop.The Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association plans to meet with the senator’s staff later this winter. “We look forward to working with the Senator on bike friendly land protection,” the organization said in a statement. “From what we understand, his office is aware of the conflicts shown on the preliminary maps, and is in no rush to finalize his proposal until after he’s met with biking advocates, including RFMBA.”A loose confederation of nearly 250 business owners and operators in Pitkin, Gunnison, Garfield and Mesa counties along with 200 business owners in Summit and Eagle counties recently wrote letters to Colorado’s Congressional delegation touting wilderness as a boost for the economy of western Colorado. They applauded Udall’s initiative Monday.scondon@aspentimes.com