Kestrel Project gives students bird’s-eye view of roadless areas
A group of 30 or so students, mostly from Colorado Rocky Mountain School, were taking flights at the Glenwood Springs Airport early Wednesday morning.”That was freaking sweet,” Jon Childs, a CRMS student, said after a 15-minute flight. “We went right over where we went camping. It’s like the best view of Sopris ever.”The flights are part of Ecoflight’s Kestrel Project, an effort to engage young people in environmental issues by flying them over land that development has changed or, in this case, flying over roadless areas.Tuesday night, in a CRMS classroom, was not quite as exciting as taking off in a small aircraft, but it set the framework for the next day. There, Bruce Gordon, from Ecoflight and MaroonCorps leaders Aron Ralston and Elliott Larsen spoke to students about the importance of roadless areas and what can be done to save them.”You can see five roadless areas from here,” Ralston said. “These are areas in your backyard and our backyard.”Dorothea Farris, a Pitkin County commissioner, took 15 minutes away from a joint meeting with Carbondale to address the students. “If we don’t do something soon, we’re going to loose these lands,” she said. “You need to make your voices heard because they hear you, we hear you. Be a very loud voice, be educated, know your facts.”Some options for action were presented for postflight activity: Write a letter, adopt a roadless area or attend an event such as the June 21 task force hearing in Glenwood Springs. “It’s all fun,” Larsen, a MaroonCorps member, said of adopting a roadless area. “Go for a hike, take photos and hang out with friends.”So early Wednesday, the CRMS students showed up at the airport for a peek into areas that generally take a while to access on foot. “I loved it,” said student Jampal Namgyel. “You got to see all the backcountry you didn’t know existed. I hadn’t thought about roads as much as other environmental issues.”Roads, however, are a big, big issue. Once land has roads, it can’t be designated as wilderness. Keep it roadless, and an area is always up for consideration to have the highest level of protection. The original Roadless Area Conservation Rule issued protection against building roads on nearly 60 million acres nationwide. More than 4.4 million of those acres are in Colorado, and 640,000 are in the White River National Forest. The decision followed the most extensive public process in the history of the federal government, and it garnered the support of 95 percent of those who commented. Soon after the measure passed, President Bush took office and suspended the rule. Currently there are 2,356 miles of roads in the White River National Forest, and 365,000 miles nationally, on which the Forest Service has a $10 billion maintenance backlog.From the air, much of the area around Carbondale and going up toward the roadless areas the students saw – Basalt Mountain, Thompson Creek, Assignation Ridge – are roads, old and new.”I’ve spent a lot of time in the areas,” Jack Bethel, an Aspen resident and CRMS student, said after his flight. “There are already so many roads back there that destroy potential for wilderness.”Cross into a roadless area and all you see are trees, rocks, mountains and streams. “It’s really awesome up there,” Childs said. “It’s a whole different perspective from the air.”Joel Stonington’s e-mail email@example.com
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