Eagle County’s congressman reintroduces wilderness bill | VailDaily.com

Eagle County’s congressman reintroduces wilderness bill

DENVER, Colorado – Rep. Jared Polis stood on the Colorado Capitol steps Friday surrounded by an entourage from Denver and Boulder to introduce a wilderness package for Eagle and Summit counties.

Polis, a Boulder Democrat, reintroduced the Eagle and Summit County Wilderness Preservation Act. It seeks to put 166,000 acres, mostly in Eagle County, under wilderness designation.

“We introduced it at the end of last session. We’re starting out in this two-year session trying to preserve some of Colorado’s most special wild areas,” Polis said.

It’s all based on the long and contentious Hidden Gems wilderness debate. Motorized and mechanized uses are banned in wilderness areas.

That upheaval sparked more emails to the Eagle County commissioners than anything they’ve ever dealt with, the commissioners said.

Polis held several public meetings about Hidden Gems and says he went through the “trail by trail” before drafting his bill.

“Last year it was one of our priorities,” Polis said. “Nissa Erickson staffs our office in Summit County, and it took up half her time and a great deal of my time as well.”

“We wanted to get it right.”

Kerry Donovan, Vail Town Council member, was in Denver with Polis.

“My family has a strong history with wilderness,” Donovan said. “From my grandfather shaping and defining wilderness boundaries because of his beliefs in the power of meeting nature on its own terms, to my parents introducing sustainability and recycling – it is this legacy that inspires me to be a part of this legislation. To add these proposed parcels to the existing wilderness completes a project started a lifetime ago.”

Polis’s Denver entourage in Denver did not include Jack Albright, vice president of the all-volunteer White River Forest Alliance, which has raised concerns about the evolving wilderness proposals.

“Our position has not changed. It’s still the same bill,” Albright said. “There were some areas that needed to be addressed before and they need to be addressed now. We’re hopeful that we’ll have that opportunity if the bill is read in committee, that is, if it gets read at all.”

The proposal received endorsements from the commissioners in both Eagle and Summit counties and a wide variety of organizations.

None, though, is likely as important as the Colorado National Guard’s High Altitude Army Aviation Training Site at the Eagle County airport in Gypsum. Military helicopter pilots from all over the world are trained there to handle combat conditions in the Middle East.

“There has never been any question about what HAATS needs and that we’ll see that they get it,” Polis said.

The Colorado National Guard was more subdued in its response. Capt. Darin Overstreet, spokesperson with the Colorado National Guard, said they cannot comment on pending legislation.

Polis was joined on the Capitol steps in Denver by Denver native Aron Ralston, also recently of Hollywood and the movie “127 Hours”; Denver-based photographer John Fielder; Denver activist Elise Jones with the Colorado Environmental Coalition; and a Boulder outerwear retailer.

The announcement was made in Denver instead of the mountains to make travel easier for the event’s speakers, Polis said.

“We had several public hearings in Summit and Eagle counties,” Polis said “I’ll be out in Eagle County often, as I have been throughout this process and I’ll be happy to talk to anyone about this.”

The bill’s first stop is the House Natural Resources Committee.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

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