EAGLE COUNTY — The Eagles Nest Wilderness looks almost exactly the same as it did 50 years ago — and that’s the point.
This year commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, a bill signed in 1964 that set aside special lands that would be forever protected from human influence.
“We have three (wilderness areas) here — Eagles Nest, Holy Cross and Flat Tops. We’re celebrating it now, as well as looking ahead to the next 50 years,” said U.S. Forest Service Wilderness Ranger Carol Rodriguez.
Land management agencies around the country will be celebrating the 50th in their communities, and locally, the Forest Service wants to involve the community. Rodriguez said the district hopes to bring several speakers to the area and will be partnering with Walking Mountains Science Center in Avon to host an event series centered around wilderness awareness.
The 50th anniversary also coincides with the 20th year of a local volunteer group, Friends of the Eagles Nest Wilderness (FENW). Volunteers help out the limited Forest Service staff. They help monitor local trails and educate trail users about the area and “Leave No Trace” ethics. They also do a fair amount of trail work, helping to clear downed trees and remove beetle kill.
“Without these people we wouldn’t be able to do as much work as we do,” said Rodriguez.
Of course, when it comes to celebrating, there’s no better place to turn to than a brewery. That’s why Eagle’s Bonfire Brewery has concocted the BeWildeRed Red brew in commemoration of the anniversaries. FENW will throw a fundraising party for the brew’s official unveiling on Thursday where attendees can raise a glass while supporting the organization. BeWildeRed Red will be on sale at local liquor stores through June, and five percent of sales will go to the FENW.
Proceeds go toward a project to remove a trash dumpsite from a wilderness area. The project is in a remote area and will involve a number of workers and pack llamas to haul out the trash.
Our Wild Backyard
If you’ve hiked much in the Vail area, chances are that you’ve stepped foot on wilderness. Head to Beaver Lake from Beaver Creek and you’ll enter the wilderness. The same goes for Piney Lake to Piney Falls and Booth Falls in Vail. Wilderness sits within public, protected lands, but its special designation restricts many activities. There are trails open for hiking and horseback riding, but you can’t bike or use any mechanized vehicles. You also can’t mine or log.
The idea is that in these areas, humans are visitors, not owners, and as much as possible, there is minimal human impact, said Rodriguez. Wilderness areas are designated based on a number of factors — besides being naturally beautiful and a habitat for certain wildlife, many areas also are important for maintaining air quality and waterways.
As much as this year is a celebration, it’s also a time to look ahead to the future, said Rodriguez.
“The first 50 years have been about implementing this wilderness idea into the public land system. We’re going to have to look at the challenges in the next 50 years,” she said. “Will there be more or less people wanting to recreate in it? Will we see challenges to the Wilderness Act itself? As more and more people get out there, how will we share the space and still minimize our impact?”
Get your hands dirty
The Friends of the Eagles Nest Wilderness hope that those questions get people interested in what is essentially their backyard. Volunteer Jason Boes, of Edwards, said the small, dedicated group is seeking volunteers. Members commit four four-hour days or work throughout the year, in addition to a training day at the end of May. Nearly any adult can do it, and no previous training or certification is needed.
Boes got involved with the group several years ago after seeing a call for volunteers in the newspaper. Now he dedicates six to eight days each year to volunteering. The group’s main focus is education, and he said that volunteers often get the chance to talk to hikers who aren’t familiar with the concept of wilderness, and many don’t even know they’ve crossed into it.
“I love wilderness and what it stands for,” Boes said. “I like the idea of keeping certain areas of Forest Service land as pristine as possible and driving down the impact of users on the area.”
See www.fenw.org for more information about the group and volunteering.
Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 or at email@example.com.