Congressmen laud local support for bill | VailDaily.com

Congressmen laud local support for bill

Rep. Jared Polis, with his back to the camera, Thursday hosted a tour of proposed expansions of local wilderness areas. Along with local and regional supporters, the tour also included Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee. Grijalva said he was impressed with what he saw and heard, and said he'll work to get the Polis bill passed.

Name that bill

Rep. Jared Polis, who represents roughly the eastern third of the Vail Valley, will in a few weeks introduce a bill that, in Eagle County, would expand the Holy Cross and Eagles Nest wilderness area. Polis said Thursday that he and his staff are looking for a clever name for the bill.

If you have a clever name, submit your suggestion at polis.house.gov.

This story has been corrected. The Eagle River Water and Sanitation District Board of Directors has not endorsed the Polis wilderness bill. The board has not taken an official position on the proposed legislation.

VAIL — An effort to expand local wilderness areas has been bubbling for years. A new bill, with relatively modest goals, will be introduced this year. That bill apparently now has a powerful ally in Washington, D.C.

Rep. Jared Polis, a Boulder Democrat whose district includes roughly the eastern third of the Vail Valley, hosted a look-around at some of the areas proposed for protection on Thursday. The bill in Eagle County would add roughly 40,000 acres to the Eagles Nest and Holy Cross wilderness areas. It would also set aside roughly 10,000 acres for special management, meaning uses would be restricted.

In addition to a familiar cadre of state and local advocates, Thursday's tour also included Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz. Grijalva is the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee. In Congress-speak, "ranking member" means Grijalva is the most senior Democrat on the committee. Republicans currently hold a majority in the House of Representatives, which means members of that party hold all committee chairmanships.

Still, Grijalva has some influence in the Capitol. And, after a tour that started at the Loveland ski area and ended in a meeting room in Vail, Grijalva said he was impressed with what he'd seen and heard.

Local Participation

Polis' bill "meets the template for a bipartisan bill," Grijalva said. A big part of that template is the level of local participation in drafting the bill.

The latest version of the Polis bill has support from the groups and individuals you'd expect — The Wilderness Society, Conservation Colorado and photographer John Fielder, among others.

Fielder and representatives from those groups praised the idea of

The bill has also earned support the town of Vail, Eagle County and other local governments. But the Vail Valley Mountain Bike Association also supports the proposal.

"We appreciated working with your staff," said Diane Johnson, the communications and public affairs officer for the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District. While the district board has not yet taken an official position on the bill, the district during the past couple of years has asked for, and received, several boundary changes in the bill. District officials said those changes were needed to help ensure they were able to properly maintain and improve facilities that bring water out of the forests surrounding the Vail area.

Polis' staff was also praised for working to ensure Colorado Springs Utilities would also be able to maintain the facilities it has in Eagle County — that city uses much of the water from Homestake Reservoir.

'Spectrum of Recreation'

Vail Resorts also supports the bill.

Rick Cables, vice president of natural resources and conservation at Vail Resorts Management Co., acknowledged that the resort company uses public lands in a very different way from wilderness preservation.

But nearby wilderness offers guests a "spectrum of recreation," Cables said.

Scott Braden of Conservation Colorado said working with cyclists, water districts and others resulted in "dozens of changes" to the boundaries of the proposed wilderness expansion areas.

Supporters said they're also happy with the work done on the bill, and encouraged action in Congress.

Garrett Reppenhagen is the Rocky Mountain director of the Vet Voice Foundation, a nonprofit veterans' advocacy group.

Reppenhagen told the group about a time in Afghanistan when a group of soldiers and others gathered for a movie. The national anthem played before the main feature, and Reppenhagen said the images were all of the country's natural areas.

'Place of Healing'

"That's what spurred our pride," Reppenhagen said, adding that wilderness can be a "place of healing" for veterans.

After about an hour of listening, Grijalva said he believes the proper elements are in place to bring a bill forward and get it passed. He said he and Polis would start putting together support for the bill when they return to the Capitol.

"We want a priority on this," he said.

Making the bill a priority could mean that more committee members come for a visit.

"Once you see it, the commitment is a little stronger," Grijalva said. "This is a tiny, well-done piece of legislation. We'll strategize on where it needs to go next."

Polis told the group he hoped the bill can be passed this year. But, he added, he'll keep working to get it passed.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com and @scottnmiller.