Deep Creek deserves greater protection
To the Garfield County Commissioners and U.S. Congressman Scott McInnis, this a plea for an open and thorough public dialogue on the proposed wilderness status of the Deep Creek Canyon area.
Regrettably, the Garfield Commissioners, so far, have not agreed to such a dialogue. On Feb. 27, 2001, they publicly declared their unwillingness to hold any public hearing on proposed new wilderness areas in Garfield County. In the words of Commissioner Walt Stowe (Feb. 27, 2001) it would be like “putting on a charade” and “it would not be likely that anyone would change my mind.”
This denial is in stark contrast with our neighboring counties. Montrose, Delta, Mesa, Pitkin and Eagle counties all agreed to consult with their citizens through public hearings! Later in May, Commissioner John Martin went as far as saying that “Wilderness areas constitute a war on the West.” Does that show an unbiased and open mind?
Despite the denial of public hearings, interested citizens, especially the Colorado Wilderness Network (a coalition more than 300 Colorado local governments, conservation groups, recreational groups and businesses), were undaunted, and continued to press for Deep Creek protection with Congressman McInnis and his staff and testified before congress.
I join many Coloradans in thanking Congressman McInnis for introducing Deep Creek Wilderness legislation into congress last September. Unfortunately, McInnis’ bill does not bestow full and lasting protection on this unique natural treasure. He limits wilderness status only to the 8,000 acres of the near-vertical, densely forested canyon walls.
Because of its steep grade and inaccessible nature, the actual Deep Creek gorge already is a “de facto” wilderness area for which there is no obvious alternative use. Bestowing legal wilderness status on this limited area constitutes only a token gesture without any political cost. Since there is no real “quid pro quo,” his wilderness bill does not present any compromise with the citizens’ proposal of 22,000 acres!
Please accept the detailed studies prepared by volunteers from across Colorado during the 1980s and ’90s and the resulting citizens’ proposal of 1994 as a base for consideration of wilderness status for the 22,000-acre area in and around Deep Creek gorge. This proposal is also supported by the U.S. Forest Service, which identified more than 18,000 acres as having high ranking for wilderness potential!
Congressman McInnis, your 8,000-acre bill excludes any land around the canyon rim. This does not make sense. Just envision the Grand Canyon gorge minus the park or Yellowstone National Park being limited to the geysers only or Denali National Park to only Mount McKinley or, for that matter, the Maroon Bells Wilderness to just the Maroon Bells!
All these national treasures include surrounding acreage as integral and essential parts of their natural area, which provide a buffer zone between neighboring multiple use areas. The Citizens’ Proposal does include such an essential buffer zone, which will provide ample opportunities for exploration and enjoyment for visitors of all abilities both on foot and horseback, hunters and fishermen. Moreover, it presents no apparent conflicts with other possible uses. It also assures full and continued access by motorized vehicles, as the Coffee Pot Road and the spur to the scenic overlook fall outside of the proposed wilderness area.
Since the 1970 Census, Colorado’s population almost doubled from 2.2 million to 4.3 million, as per the 2000 Census. Garfield county’s population has shown a similar dramatic growth that has far outpaced the addition of new wilderness areas during the same period.
Mr. County Commissioners, recently Glenwood Springs completed an exhaustive two-year series of public hearings that resulted in final approval with wide public support for a major new residential and commercial development. Your decisions on the future of our public lands should be equally deserving of public participation! Please draw on the collective wisdom of your constituents by hosting public hearings on Deep Creek and other proposed wilderness areas in order to achieve the greatest public good!
Mr. McInnis, please incorporate the 1994 Citizen Proposal into your proposed legislation for Deep Creek wilderness status for the permanent benefit of us all.
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