GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - A Utah senator helped inspire a movement two decades ago when he argued against wilderness protection, by saying his older constituents would not be able to enjoy the outdoors if motorized access was prohibited.
Female backpackers in the audience objected to his comment and decided to form a group, calling themselves Great Old Broads for Wilderness. The group was founded in 1989 on the 25th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.
National headquarters for Great Old Broads for Wilderness is located in Durango. Numerous local chapters, called Broadbands exist across the country.
Four years ago, Jan Burch founded a Broadband in Grand Junction, where members meet monthly to talk about preserving wild lands - for themselves and future generations.
Some local Broads also volunteer with the Bureau of Land Management Grand Junction Field Office, an agency responsible for more than a million acres of public lands in Colorado, mostly in Mesa and Garfield counties.
Local Broadband leader Sherry Schenk adopted a BLM trail that she monitors, and from which she regularly hauls out trash. Schenk also volunteers in the office and helps with BLM outreach events. Another member, Janice Shepherd monitors archeology sites on BLM land.
It's an "incredible gift" to have unspoiled lands nearby, so "volunteering to give back is important to me," Schenk said.
Broads testify at hearings on land-use policy, write letters to the editor and to legislators, and participate in rallies and protests.
Members also get together for "Broad Walks" where Great Old Broads from across the country come to walk, study and learn about an area and often do a service project together.
Not everyone appreciates the women, who tend to be 60 and older. Last fall, members from 50 states gathered for a Broad Walk near Canyonlands National Park where they camped for four nights. They woke up one morning and found themselves locked inside their campsite.
"We were doing trail and fence maintenance," 80-year old local Broad Joyce Olson said. "Someone came at night, closed the gate and padlocked it. If anyone had gotten sick, we couldn't have got out."
Former GOB director Ronni Egan walked to a nearby ranch for bolt-cutters, Olson said.
A hag mask was also posted on a fence with an ominous note: "Get out of San Juan County. This is your last warning."
"It was a threat because they locked us in," Olson said.
These wilderness gals are not easily intimidated, however.
BROADS FAVOR PROTECTING MORE BLM LAND
Great Old Broads spend a lot of time researching issues so they can make intelligent comments regarding public land use, said Schenk, a 60-year old retired school psychologist.
Most recently, members have immersed themselves in studying the BLM's draft Resource Management Plan, a 600-plus-page document that will determine public lands direction for the BLM for the next 20 years. The BLM is accepting written public comments regarding the four alternative plans through April 25.
"We revise the plan every two decades; this (new plan) will set the management direction for the next two decades. So, it's very important," local BLM spokesman David Boyd said.
"There are four alternatives we're looking at. It's important for people concerned about public lands to review the alternatives and give us comments. It's a good opportunity for people to have an influence on how public lands are managed."
Plan A directs the BLM to continue with its current plan. Plan B, the BLM's "preferred alternative," identifies three areas: West Creek, and Maverick and Unaweep Canyons near Gateway, as areas with "wilderness characteristics" - meaning oil and gas development, and motorized access would be prohibited.
Great Old Broads prefer plan C, that would protect nine additional areas from motorized use, and oil and gas development. While recognizing that many motorized users are good stewards of the land, both Schenk and Olson said they have seen many instances where off-road vehicles have driven up creek beds.
"One of our mottos is it's OK to use the land; it's not OK to abuse it," Olson said.
Under Plan D, no additional lands would be considered for lands with wilderness characteristics.
Boyd emphasized that all alternatives are on the table, and that the BLM welcomes feedback regarding each of the plans. The final plan will probably have aspects of each of the alternatives, he said.
"Lands with wilderness characteristics" must be natural, provide solitude, provide unconfined recreation and be larger than 5,000 acres. Other, supplemental values include lands with rare plants, endangered animals, or paleontological and archaeological features.
BROS AND TRAINING BROADS
Great Old Broads for Wilderness includes members of all ages and both genders. Men are called "Bros" and younger women under the age of 50 are called "Training Broads."
Not all Broads visit the lands they work to preserve - whether due to physical ability or geographical distance. They want the lands protected, however, for future generations.
Broads work to preserve wild places and say roadless wild areas should remain roadless to protect wildlife habitat and prevent further "damaging incursions into wilderness." According to the grassroots, nonprofit organization, "public lands already contain enough roads - millions of miles of them, providing adequate access and recreational opportunities."
Broads also like to point out that protected wild lands bring economic benefits in the form of hunters, fishermen, birders, photographers and tourists to the region.
There are 100 members of the local Broad chapter, 30 of whom are active, Schenk said.
The Great Old Broads for Wilderness' next meeting is planned for 5-7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 25. Call Schenk at 970-596-8510 for location and more information.