Hidden Gems members meet with Colo. Army National Guard | PostIndependent.com

Hidden Gems members meet with Colo. Army National Guard

Daily staff report
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GYPSUM, Colorado – Representatives of the Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign met with officers from the Colorado Army National Guard on Friday to talk about expanding wilderness and the high-altitude military training program based at the Eagle County Regional Airport.

Hidden Gems proponents want to protect 400,000 acres of land in the Vail Valley and the surrounding region under strict federal wilderness designation. Earlier this week, the National Guard said it was concerned the expansion would restrict the program that trains helicopter pilots from all branches of the military and around the world to fly in mountain terrain.

Hidden Gems officials said Friday they presented several options that would preserve wilderness and protect the training program, also known as HAATS.

“We appreciate the National Guard’s willingness to sit down and work towards an agreement that protects both national security and these vital wilderness-quality lands,” said Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of the Wilderness Workshop in Carbondale and a member of the negotiating team.

“We came away from the meeting with a better understanding of perspectives, and, I believe, built a level of trust,” he said.

Officials from Hidden Gems and HAATS agreed to meet again within the next several weeks.

About 500 Army pilots will train at HAATS this year, Col. Joel Best, senior aviation officer for the Colorado Army National Guard, told the Associated Press. The pilots learn how to deal with the limitations of flying in thin air, which saps helicopters of some of their engine power and affects handling, he said.

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