Concerns linger about Vail Valley wilderness proposal |

Concerns linger about Vail Valley wilderness proposal

Special to the Vail DailyCastle Peak is among the areas a regional group wants to protect as wilderness.

VAIL, Colorado – Volunteers and nonprofit groups have been working for years to develop the so-called Hidden Gems proposal, which would add some 200,000 acres of wilderness to the Vail Valley and the surrounding region.

They have been leading hikes, holding public meetings and talking with mountain bikers, ranchers and snowmobilers.

But – as the campaign readies to submit its plan to Colorado’s congressional delegation – there are still local residents who are concerned about the proposal.

The Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign presented its plan to the county commissioners Tuesday, and while audience members were instructed to only ask questions, it was clear that some had issues with the proposal.

Lance Trujillo, of the Holy Cross Powderhounds, a local snowmobiling club, said his group had not been approached about the proposal until last Friday.

“The question I have for you is, what happens next year?” Trujillo said. “Is there going to be more wilderness proposed the following year, 10 years from now, five years from now?

“Because once it becomes wilderness, it doesn’t go back. And our concern is that every year, we’re fighting to keep these area open for all the people in Colorado, the tourists, and so forth.”

The proposal would deem several Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands as wilderness area, which would prohibit motorized and mechanized activities in the area, such as mountain biking, snowmobiling and ATV riding. It would also protect the areas from logging, road building and mining. It would create new, standalone wilderness areas, as well as additions to existing wilderness areas.

“What do I want my great-great grandchildren to see?” said Susie Kincaid, of the Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign. “I want to them to be able to see and experience the same things that I’ve gotten to see and experience here. That’s why I believe this is a legacy that we have an the opportunity to put into place that we will be thanked for generations and generations hence.”

Proposed wilderness area in Eagle County include:

• Lower Piney (28,310 acres).

• Freeman Creek (1,376 acres).

• Homestake (4,314 acres).

• Castle Peak (16,263 acres).

• Bull Gulch (15,155 acres).

• Spraddle Creek (9,514 acres).

• West Lake Creek (3,377 acres)

Kincaid said the group had already scaled back the proposal by some 23 percent, in large part to accommodate snowmobilers, ATV riders and mountain bikers. The group will continue to talk to local residents who have problems with the proposal, she said.

“It’s one big sandbox, and we all have to play well together in it,” she said.

Kym Manula, of Vail Stables at Spraddle Creek Ranch, near Vail, noted that horses only go about two miles per hour, and most people are only comfortable riding a horse for about 20 minutes at a time.

“I feel that by taking away a lot of roads in the wilderness you restrict the ability for the majority of the population to get into and enjoy the wilderness,” she said.

There were also several people whose questions seemed to indicate support for the proposal.

“Are you aware of how many flowers and plants you can find in the area of Bald Mountain?” asked Nancy Rondeau, of Vail. “I have a list. … I was overwhelmed.”

The campaign is aiming to submit its plan to Colorado’s congressional delegation this fall. U.S. Rep.

Jared Polis, whose district includes the Vail Valley, has expressed interest in the plan, said Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of the Wilderness Workshop, one of the nonprofits that is working on the campaign.

The proposal would have to be approved by Congress.

The campaign is seeking a letter of support from the county Board of Commissioners.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 970-748-2929 or

Learn more about the Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign at

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