Wilderness advocate polling Summit about Hidden Gems | VailDaily.com

Wilderness advocate polling Summit about Hidden Gems

Caitlin Row
Summit County, CO Colorado

Jay Heeter

SILVERTHORNE – Jay Heeter, the central mountains conservation coordinator for the Colorado Mountain Club, was in Summit County this week to poll locals about their thoughts on the Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign. It’s a proposal that could potentially add thousands of acres to wilderness-designated lands in the White River National Forest if approved.

The Hidden Gems proposal focuses on protecting forest land in Eagle, Summit, Gunnison and Pitkin counties by giving land a wilderness designation reserved for “special places,” Heeter said.

“National forest land is not inherently protected,” he said. He noted that a wilderness designation means logging and mining wouldn’t be allowed in those areas.

According to Heeter, he’s collecting signatures to include in an open letter to U.S. Rep. Jared Polis asking him to consider introducing the bill in Congress this year.

“We’d like it to happen in this session,” Heeter said. “Congressman Polis has not taken a position, but he’s encouraged us to go to the local community and find out what people think.”

Heeter spent time in Silverthorne and Dillon on Tuesday, and he was in Breckenridge, Dillon and Silverthorne on Wednesday, talking to people in public areas. He said he spent time in Frisco last week.

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Not everyone is onboard with the Hidden Gems proposal. Some local mountain bikers and motorized users have said they have concerns that the wilderness designation would affect their ability to recreate on public lands. There’s also been opposition by motorized users to the proposal in Eagle, Pitkin and Garfield counties. The Mesa County commissioners have even adopted a resolution opposing the Hidden Gems plan.

Backers of the plan have said it would aid in the protection of wildlife habitat and other natural resources.

“It’s about the public telling the forest service how they want the land managed,” Heeter said.

For more information about the Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign, visit http://www.whiteriverwild.org. To learn more about the Colorado Mountain Club, visit http://www.cmc.org.

Heeter is based in Golden but he said he spends a lot of time working in the high country. To contact him, e-mail JayHeeter@cmc.org.