Pitkin County to Gems: Get more public comment | VailDaily.com

Pitkin County to Gems: Get more public comment

Aaron Hedge
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart/The Aspen TimesA discussion of the Hidden Gems Wilderness proposal Tuesday by Pitkin County commissioners drew a standing room-only crowd. Before the session began, area resident Dan Kitchen, left, stood outside offering free ear and nose plugs to those who don't favor motorized uses. Collin Stewart, with the Hidden Gems campaign, offered pro-Gems stickers for attendees to wear.

ASPEN, Colorado – Pitkin County commissioners told Hidden Gems advocates Tuesday to “take this show on the road” and gather more public input on the proposal to designate more than 63,000 acres of Pitkin County as federal Wilderness.

Expressing concern that a number of public land users oppose the proposal in the four counties that would be affected, Commissioner George Newman called the division “social upheaval.” The project leaders need to foster the strongest rapport possible with those groups, he said.

The initiative in its current form would designate a total of 342,000 acres as Wilderness, making those areas off-limits to mountain bikes, all-terrain vehicles and other motorized recreation, as well as oil and gas drilling, in Pitkin, Eagle, Summit and Gunnison counties.

Proponents removed about 25 percent of the originally proposed 450,000 acres from the project, said Wilderness Workshop’s Sloan Shoemaker. The director of the organization helping to further the effort, he called it a “pretty clean” proposal.

A substantial amount of Pitkin County land has been taken off the table, including a 100,000-acre area on the west end of the county and wide corridors for several long bike trails.

But some of the stakeholders simply will not be pleased with even the highest level of compromise, Shoemaker told commissioners Tuesday.

“Some people don’t like Wilderness,” he said, adding that the most highly treasured Wilderness lands were incredibly controversial at the time of their conception.

Gems proponents recently asked U.S. Rep. Jared Polis to introduce a bill in Congress to designate the areas in his district – in Eagle and Summit counties – as Wilderness. His staff is reviewing the proposal, and a handful of other state and federal lawmakers plan to weigh in on it in the near future.

In Pitkin County, Commissioner Michael Owsley encouraged Shoemaker to keep the discussion alive with Gems opponents. He offered to buy Shoemaker breakfast for the next two weeks in one of the social hotbeds of opposition.

Fellow Commissioner Jack Hatfield threw his full support behind the effort, stressing the importance of keeping certain lands safe from damaging human activity.

The proposal is “pretty darn good,” Hatfield said, noting that he hadn’t read all the details.


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