Vail Daily letter: Some historical context to Gems wilderness proposal
Vail, CO, Colorado
I am writing to voice my support for the Hidden Gems wilderness proposal. As a 25-year resident of the Eagle Valley and one of the original developers of the town and ski resort of Vail, I cannot understate the importance of protecting the wild areas around us from overuse and development.
My first experience with wilderness came when the U.S. Forest Service planned a road into the existing primitive area and proposed wilderness that is now, largely, the Eagle’s Nest Wilderness.
Some of us opposed that, and the 10th Circuit Court in Denver agreed that only Congress — not the Forest Service — could establish wilderness boundaries.
Several years later, the state and federal highway departments and the Forest Service wanted to put a highway and tunnel through the Eagle’s Nest Wilderness Area. It was known as the Red Buffalo Tunnel proposal.
At that point, Skiing Magazine publisher and Vail resident Merrill Hastings hired horses, and together we took representatives from the Forest Service and the two highway departments along the route they were planning.
That trip established that it would cost much more money than planned in order to mitigate the avalanche paths, and convinced them to build the highway over Vail Pass, where U.S. 6 was already located.
I share those stories with you to help illustrate that there are many forces at work against protecting areas like Eagles Nest in the past, and the Hidden Gems in the present.
When I first came to the mountains of Colorado, as a soldier in the 10th Mountain Division, massive elk herds spent their winters in the fields alongside the Eagle River. As the towns have developed and subdivisions and commercial developments have spread into those areas, the elk and many other creatures have all but disappeared from their traditional wintering areas.
The Hidden Gems wilderness proposal plays an important role in checking this trend, because it seeks to expand existing wilderness down into lower elevations and create new wilderness areas in places that support big game populations in winter and spring, such as elk, deer, bighorn sheep.
We need to preserve as much as natural beauty as possible for future generations.
This shouldn’t be about us old timers. It’s about future generations of young Americans.
We have spoiled much of America, and need to preserve as much as we can for them.