INTRODUCTION: An exciting, multifaceted bill to enhance outdoor recreational activities on public lands in Eagle and Summit Counties is now before the U.S. Congress. Vail's Susie Kincade has worked diligently on the project for a decade, and writes about the bill for us below. Two important take-home messages: First, the bill does not deny any activity currently allowed, but in fact enhances opportunities (and thus, the International Mountain Biking Association has signed on). Second, passage of the bill will benefit greatly if we can garner the support of Colorado Senator Cory Gardner (read how you can help).
New Wilderness Bill Protects
the Continental Divide
by Susie Kincade
Senator Michael Bennet and Representative Jared Polis took advantage of the recent Outdoor Retail and Snow Show in Denver to announce the introduction of the Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness, and Camp Hale Legacy Act (CDRWCHLA).
The legislation would preserve 98,421 acres of the White River National Forest in Summit and Eagle counties as wilderness, recreation management areas, and wildlife conservation areas. It also would designate Camp Hale as America’s first National Historic Landscape. The act adds territory to all three Wilderness Areas that FENW supports with its work.
For nearly a decade, a diverse and large coalition of local stakeholders, led by The Wilderness Society, Conservation Colorado, and Wilderness Workshop has been working to conserve the public lands in the Continental Divide region of central Colorado. The International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA), Vet Voice and Sierra Club have joined the efforts in recent years.
After many community gatherings, meetings with elected officials, and several draft proposals, the Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness, and Camp Hale Legacy Act reflects the collective interests of many different constituencies ranging from mountain bikers and veterans to small business owners and water users. This act is supported by the Eagle and Summit County Commissioners, and the towns of Dillon, Breckenridge and Vail.
One example of collaborative effort is the Tenmile area. Originally the Tenmile Wilderness contained more acreage but would have eliminated popular mountain bike trails. The Wilderness acreage was decreased, and the Tenmile North and South Recreation Management Areas were created. These RMAs will provide many of the same protections as Wilderness (no commercial logging, no mining), but mountain bikers will continue to enjoy their current trails. An addition to the Eagles Nest Wilderness was eliminated from the original proposal because it was a popular snowmobile area.
The legislation creates three new wilderness areas: Hoosier Pass, Tenmile, and Williams Fork, and adds to Eagles Nest, Holy Cross, and Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness Areas. It establishes the unique, 17,000-acre Recreation Management Area in Summit County to protect mountain biking, hiking, and hunting access between the towns of Breckenridge and Frisco.
Protecting these lands and watersheds will safeguard ecologically important, mid- and high-elevation areas that provide vital wildlife habitat for black bear, elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, sage grouse, moose, lynx, wild turkey, and the rare wolverine. Specifically, the legislation will create two wildlife conservation areas, nearly 12,000 acres, to protect critical wildlife linkages and habitat near Loveland Pass and in the Williams Fork Mountains.
“Colorado’s high country attracts hunters and anglers from around the world who seek its solitude and backcountry. In addition to these public lands and waters which support robust populations of fish and wildlife, this legislation sustains our time-tested traditions of hunting and fishing for current and future generations,” added David Lien, Colorado Chapter Chair of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.
A version of the legislation was first introduced by Representative Jared Polis in 2014 but did not include protections for Camp Hale. Home of the WWII-era training camp of the storied 10th Mountain Division, the 29,000-acre Camp Hale National Historic Landscape would preserve a slice of history from the Greatest Generation. Ski troopers learned the unique skills necessary for winter warfare, and many returned and played key roles in building Colorado’s outdoor ski industry.
“Designating Camp Hale will pay homage to our veterans and the birth of our state’s booming outdoor industry,” said Bradley Noone, a U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division Veteran. “I want to thank Representative Polis and Senator Bennet for honoring World War II Veterans, small business owners, and the lands that we all enjoy. This legislation will benefit all Americans.”
The Continental Divide coalition is urging Senator Cory Gardner to co-sponsor the legislation and is hopeful that Congress follows Congressman Polis and Senator Bennet’s lead and passes this bipartisan and sensible legislation.