Plan proposes 2 area wilderness additions
Garfield County residents now have a better idea where they can hike, bike and snowmobile on the White River National Forest.
And where they can’t.
Tuesday, the White River issued the final version of its revised land and resource management plan.
What could hamper some recreationists on the national forest are two new wilderness areas. If Congress agrees with the recommendations of the forest plan and designates the two areas, 62,000 acres of national forest will be closed to motorized vehicles.
Regardless of whether a bill is introduced in Congress to designate these areas as wilderness, the White River will manage them as such, the plan said.
The larger of the two areas is 50,000 acres of Red Table Mountain and Gypsum Creek near Basalt. Assignation Ridge, west of Redstone, covers 12,000 acres.
Both were given high priority by forest planners because they represent low-elevation ecosystems not well represented in the nationwide wilderness system.
Most wilderness areas are in national forests at higher elevations. Lower-elevation lands, principally held by the Bureau of Land Management, were homesteaded when the national forests were created.
But in the interest of representing diverse ecosystems and vegetation types in the wilderness system, the Forest Service now is focusing on lower-elevation areas.
Red Table Mountain and Gypsum Creek and Assignation Ridge will help fill that gap.
In all, the final forest plan recommends 82,000 acres of additional wilderness, compared to a total of 47,000 acres recommended in the 1999 draft plan.
“I’m overjoyed Red Table Mountain and Gypsum Creek were recommended for wilderness,” said Richard Compton, director of the White River Conservation Project. “That’s been dear to my heart since I was new in the area.”
One four-wheel-drive road from Gypsum Creek up Red Table Mountain will be closed, Compton said, as will a little-used motorcycle route.
Near Assignation Ridge, Braderich Tail, popular with mountain bikers and hikers, will remain open, Compton said.
“There’s some tradeoffs,” he said.
While he applauded the addition of low-elevation wilderness in the Roaring Fork River drainage, Compton said he hoped for similar wilderness on the Flat Tops.
“I was disappointed they didn’t add significant low-elevation (wilderness) on the Flat Tops,” he said.
In fact, the one area on the Flat Tops proposed by U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Grand Junction, for wilderness, Deep Creek, was not recommended for wilderness in the forest plan.
Instead, the White River proposes to manage Deep Creek as a wild and scenic river.
“We felt the guidelines for wild and scenic (designation) offer appropriate management,” said White River National Forest Supervisor Martha Ketelle, who added Deep Creek was considered too inaccessible to have recreation value as wilderness. “If the pending legislation passes, it could be the first amendment to the forest plan,” she said.
Besides Deep Creek, the plan also identified five segments of rivers that are eligible as wild and scenic, including the Crystal River, the South Fork of the White River, Cross Creek near Minturn, and about nine miles of the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon except where the Shoshone Dam and power station are located.
Ketelle said the segment of the Colorado River would be designated a recreational river, the least restrictive of the wild and scenic river management prescriptions.
As with wilderness, Congress makes the final determination of designating a wild and scenic river.
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