This month marks the 35th anniversary of the Eagle's Nest Wilderness Area. It's a great time to reflect on the foresight and diligence of Vail and Eagle County's early citizens in using the Wilderness Act of 1964 to protect a foundation of their community - our wild lands. Vail's founders recognized the economic, environmental and spiritual value of the iconic Gore Range and set about preserving it for generations to come.
Bill Mounsey, father of Diana Donovan and grandfather of current Vail Town Councilwoman Kerry Donovan, knew the mountains around Vail like none other and was known for his expertise about the terrain, habitat, forests and watersheds. He was passionate about the Gore Creek and Piney River drainages and worked tirelessly on the planning necessary to create Eagle's Nest Wilderness Area.
Did you know that the Denver Water Board wanted to build a reservoir near Piney Lake and pipe out the water, drying up the waters in the Piney River and Upper Eagle drainages? (This is actually still a possibility without our continued vigilance.)
Are you aware that the Colorado Department of Transportation originally wanted to put I-70 on Red Buffalo Pass, right through the heart of what is now the Eagle's Nest Wilderness Area?
Who stopped those development plans? The people of Eagle County. They took a stand for their wild lands and for the future of the communities that depend on clean water, abundant wildlife, and healthy ecosystems to support the tourist economy. Everyday heroes like Bill Mounsey, Bob Parker, Roger Brown, the Gramshammers, Scotts, Steinbergs, Ogilbys, Donovans and many others rallied citizens and contacted elected officials, including President Gerald Ford. Doctors and ski bums, restaurant owners and construction workers, real estate developers and filmmakers came together to save the integrity of Eagle's Nest Wilderness.
"It took all of us pulling together and staying focused on it year after year," reflected Chuck Ogilby, one of the outspoken citizens for Eagle's Nest Wilderness Area. "That's simply what it takes to preserve important lands. A few years later, we did the same thing protecting Holy Cross Wilderness from the Front Range water interests who wanted to build Homestake II."
That battle went all the way to the state Supreme Court, but that is another story.
One of the things that our forefathers did not see was the need to protect lands all the way from stunningly beautiful high rock and ice down to the valley floor. Today's citizens see that need - for wildlife migration, calving and mating grounds, and to further protect our air and watersheds from growing human pressures. That is why they have repeated the work of Ogilby, Mounsey, Parker and many others, by inventorying, mapping and scoping the Hidden Gems proposed wilderness areas, meeting with countless user groups, state and federal agencies. Over the past 11 years, they have come up with a sound citizens' proposal, which includes many compromises and accommodations for various user groups, from mountain bikers to timber interests.
Many of the Hidden Gems areas have been adopted into U.S. Rep. Jared Polis' bill, the Eagle and Summit County Wilderness Protection Act. More areas are now ready to be added to that bill and to a similar bill in the Senate. But, as Ogilby reminds us, it takes a lot of effort, time and diligence by many people who care to stay on top of land-protection issues.
I have been active in raising awareness about the need for the Hidden Gems additions to our wilderness system, and it has been exciting to see people reconnect to the values that are part of our history here - a true love and caring for the wild lands, wildlife, clean air and water. I invite you to become involved, too, because it takes an entire community many years to preserve wilderness - and our wilderness quality lands are quickly disappearing.
Wilderness is a tangible legacy for generations to come. The Eagle's Nest Wilderness is a beautiful legacy from Vail's founding citizens to us, a visionary step that honors the place we all love. As Howard Zahniser, father of the Wilderness Act, said, "To know the wilderness is to know profound humility, to recognize one's littleness, to sense dependence and independence, indebtedness and responsibility."
If you want to learn more about the wilderness effort that's under way today, please join one of our summer hikes to the Hidden Gems areas, and learn more at
www.whiteriverwild.org, or write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Susie Kincade is a 30-year resident of the valley who works on wilderness issues and offers programs for girls and women, connecting mind, body and spirit through nature. She is offering the Women's Empowerment Workshop in Vail, Sept. 15-18, a nature adventure retreat for women. Learn more at www.womenempower.us.