Vail Daily letter: Aron Ralston for Hidden Gems
Vail, CO, Colorado
Having personally visited over 75 percent of the Hidden Gems proposal areas, I’ve seen their pristine qualities. In all seasons, in all weather, with friends and alone, on foot, on skis, from rafts and even from the windows of my truck as I’ve driven along their edges. I’ve loved them all.
Rarely visited by people, these places are home to hawks and eagles, elk and deer, and – as I learned at close range once – very large mountain lions. They’re also imminently endangered by drilling, logging and unmanaged motorized and mechanized recreation. Even in the past 12 months, I’ve seen new well pads, clear cuts and illegal trails on proposal lands.
We have precious little untrammeled land left in this state. Currently, wilderness designation protects only 5 percent of Colorado, mostly high-elevation mountaintops. The Hidden Gems are generally lower lands, closer to the populated valleys. They comprise the most vital habitats for wildlife, yet receive the most pressure by high-impact industry and motorized recreation.
The Hidden Gems proposal offers us an opportunity to preserve these places forever. With wilderness, we enhance our quality of life, as well as responsibly steward these lands into the hands of the future.
For the past five years, I have participated with the Hidden Gems campaign to reach out into our community on behalf of our unprotected wild lands. Thousands of supporters have taken actions in the same spirit. We’ve made extensive efforts to communicate with and hear from all concerned groups, even those ideologically opposed to any wilderness.
This years-long process has resulted in a locally crafted proposal, as the Wilderness Act empowers us to create. Without unnecessarily sacrificing the landscape’s intrinsic natural value, we’ve accommodated scores of groups. We’ve thereby gained substantial support: Eagle and Summit County residents favor Hidden Gems two-to-one, with even 40 percent of self-identified snowmobilers supporting the proposal.
Seven years ago this month, facing imminent death under a boulder, I took a stand for myself in a desert wilderness. Now is our moment to take a stand for our Colorado wildernesses and save them, for their sake and ours.