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Vail Daily letter: Hidden Gems still need work

John Bailey
Vail, CO, Colorado

The Hidden Gems wilderness proposal is an excellent start toward land protection, and it has proven to raise a great deal of awareness about our public lands.

The Hidden Gems proposal was crafted by the Wilderness Workshop and Wilderness Society, so it is naturally geared toward wilderness protection rather than pure public land protection.

The Hidden Gems group has made a few boundary adjustments to its proposal, eliminating a few mountain-bike areas from its maps. This would not be necessary with a wilderness and companion designation where actually more lands can be protected under one complete proposal.



I feel some of the areas the group is eliminating from its proposal should be protected under a companion designation. The Hidden Gems campaign fully realizes that wilderness plus companion designations do work. The Hidden Gems campaign now recommends congressional designation in Summit County for two companion areas adjacent to the Ten Mile and Hoosier Ridge wilderness proposals, respectively.

These companion areas are not proposed for wilderness designation but rather for a protective status that allows for continued bicycle recreation. The lands proposed for these companion designations were originally part of their respective wilderness proposals but have now been removed in response to those unique local needs.



I, along with numerous other Eagle County residents, am disappointed and perplexed to why there are two proposed companion designation areas in Summit County and zero in Eagle County.

Spraddle Creek and West Lake Creek are perfect examples of areas that do not quite fit the criteria for wilderness but should be protected and would make excellent companion designations exactly like the two areas in Summit County. These areas of concern have been brought to the attention of the Hidden Gems group by local mountain-bike groups since July 2008.

We need to get out of the mindset that it is the Hidden Gems wilderness or no land protection at all. It is important to remember that wilderness designation is not the only way to protect our lands by an act of Congress. Congress has preserved natural resources and existing bicycle use by using a number of companion designations such as national scenic area, national protection area, national recreation area and national conservation area. These areas are lands protected by an act of Congress where the prescribed use of the area is set by the proposal.



Wilderness areas adjacent to companion protected areas have recently successfully been implemented in Colorado. Rep. John Salazar’s successful Dominquez-Escalante National Conservation Area and Dominquez Canyon Wilderness Act (which passed as part of the Omnibus Public Lands Act) include a large wilderness core surrounded by a bicycle-friendly companion protected area, leaving the popular Tabeguache trail open to mountain bikers. National conservation areas are designated by Congress to conserve, protect, enhance and manage public lands for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. National conservation areas offer landscapes with exceptional natural, recreational, cultural, wildlife, aquatic, archaeological, paleontological, historical, educational and scientific resources. The James Peak Wilderness and Protection Area by Winter Park was recently introduced with a companion area designation that permits mountain biking on the Rogers Pass trail plus other mountain-bike trails.

Mountain bikers are passionate about outdoor recreation, taking pleasure in the freedom to enjoy healthy, quiet recreation on public lands, and are not anti-wilderness; they are just pro-mountain biking. We are not stating mountain bikes belong everywhere, and when mountain-bike use is properly recognized, mountain bikers support new wilderness proposals. However, mountain bikers also want to protect their favorite areas from mining, drilling, road building and so on.

I understand the Hidden Gems group has a strong propaganda campaign, plus it is backed by large funds from wilderness groups with its objective of creating wilderness. But it is now time to bring in other trail users to the table with an even playing field.

The Hidden Gems group has opened the doors by meeting with other trail users, and now the wilderness groups should take a participating role rather than a controlling role in the development of a complete proposal. Perhaps it is time to bring in a professional outside consulting firm to help develop an impartial, complete land-protection plan.

I suggest a public resource action subcommittee is formed with different citizens representing all trail users. This format has been successfully implemented in the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service planning process. All the original Hidden Gems proposed maps should be reviewed in detail by the committee, and a proposal should be crafted by the group of trail-user experts.

I realize the current Hidden Gems proposal is still a work in progress, and I am hopeful that Rep. Jared Polis will come out with a revised proposal after he has compiled accurate facts plus citizen input. A wilderness designation will last forever, so please evaluate all the facts before making a decision.

Congressman Polis, I applaud your efforts to gather public input and get all the pertinent facts. Numerous groups have been working very diligently on this proposal, and it is quite close, but there are still some important unresolved issues including wildfire, watershed, High Altitude Aviation Training and recreational opportunities in several areas including Spraddle Creek and West Lake Creek.

A wilderness-plus-companion designation has been proven successful throughout the country in solving issues with a land protection for multiple user groups. Recreation is very important to Eagle County residents and Colorado’s economy. I truly hope the Hidden Gems wilderness group will be solution-minded, getting over its attitude of “no more concessions will be made for recreation” and helping formulate a well-planned comprehensive land-protection act that we all can stand behind.

John Bailey

Eagle


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