Ranches want land added to Hidden Gems proposal | VailDaily.com

Ranches want land added to Hidden Gems proposal

CARBONDALE – Some local ranchers are asking that about 5,000 acres of additional U.S. Forest Land at the base of Mount Sopris, involving the eastern portion of Hay Park, be added to the Hidden Gems Wilderness proposal.

“I did the legwork, talking with neighboring landowners, and found that adding East Hay Park to the Hidden Gems has some darn solid support,” Tom Turnbull, representative for one of three local ranching families behind the request, related in a note sent Thursday to representatives of the Hidden Gems Campaign.

The note was included in a press release sent out by Hidden Gems proponents on Friday.

The new area proposed to be added would not affect the main Hay Park Trail, which has become a popular destination for mountain bikers and hikers. It would, however, impact some side trails in Buzzard Basin that are used by mountain bikers.

Tom and Mat Turnbull, along with Marty and John Nieslanik and Brad Day, hold grazing permits on Forest Service lands the area. While the western portion of Hay Park is already part of the Hidden Gems proposal, the eastern portion was not included.

“At this point in time, the permitees and adjacent landowners would respectfully request the addition of the East Hay Park Area (delineated on the accompanying map) be considered in the Hidden Gems Wilderness expansion proposal,” Tom Turnbull continued in his note.

“This area represents a lower elevation addition to the wilderness proposal with features of remoteness, solitude, excellent undisturbed wildlife habitat and elk calving grounds,” he said. “With wilderness designation, it offers a way to check the unbridled mechanized recreational expansion that in recent years has come to dominate the Prince Creek and Sopris Creek drainages at the base of Mt. Sopris.”

Turnbull said he doesn’t want to close the area off to people, but the ranchers do want to limit the amount of what they termed “hard recreation,” which includes mountain bikes, on some of the former cattle trails that have been claimed by mountain bikers over the years.

Grazing activities along Prince Creek and the Crown area at the base of Mt. Sopris have become more difficult to manage because of expanded mountain bike use, Turnbull said. Mountain bikers often bring their dogs along for the ride, which adds to the problem, he added.

“It makes it a lot harder to keep cows scattered out where you need them, because all those bike trails are really cow trails,” he said. “When you have intense mountain bike use, the cattle become unsettled.”

By adding the new area to the wilderness proposal, Turnbull said he and his fellow ranchers hope to keep their forest grazing allotments in Hay Park from experiencing the same type of pressure.

“This creates a little more room for livestock, with a buffer that allows softer recreation, from more intense recreational pressure, primarily from mountain biking,” he said.

Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of Wilderness Workshop in Carbondale, a key sponsor of the Hidden Gems effort, said the campaign welcomed the request, and that the campaign would work to include the additional land to the Hidden Gems Wilderness proposal.

“Tom Turnbull really did a lot of the outreach work necessary so that we can add this land to our proposal,” Shoemaker said. “We applaud his work.”

The original proposal never intended to include the Hay Park Trail, he said. But the areas on either side of the trail exhibit the kind of wilderness qualities the campaign is intended to promote.

As yet, the campaign has not officially decided whether to include the additional areas, but is giving it strong consideration, Shoemaker said.

“We’re not in the business of saying ‘no’ when people ask us to add acreage to our proposal,” he said. “Usually, it’s the opposite.”

The campaign has removed several areas from the original proposal in an effort to accommodate mountain bikers, ranchers and motorized vehicle users. Shoemaker said the new request will be discussed with the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association when they meet on Tuesday.

The Hidden Gems proposal includes about 379,000 acres in 40 separate areas within the White River and Gunnison National Forests and neighboring Bureau of Land Management areas, located primarily in Pitkin, Eagle, Gunnison and Summit counties, with small portions in Garfield and Rio Blanco counties.

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