Columnist: Can’t we all get along in the backcountry?
Remember the Hidden Gems Wilderness proposal? This community gnawed its paws off, figuratively speaking, over the proposal to protect about 330,000 acres of public lands in four counties with wilderness designation, the most restrictive of protections.
Instead of a calm discussion about how to protect our verdant, ecologically vital backcountry from degradation that comes with all types of human activity, some recreation groups sensed that they were going to lose ground for their activities and ran effective and quite aggressive campaigns to stop the proposal in its (and their) tracks.
Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop, one of four groups working on Hidden Gems, took a lot of heat but nevertheless delivered a smaller proposal to Congress for consideration. None of those areas has been protected yet, but about 60,000 acres in Eagle and Summit counties may soon be protected with wilderness and another, slightly less restrictive designation.
The irony is that pretty much everybody who goes into the backcountry, whether on foot or horseback, mountain bicycle or dirt bike, ATV or snowmobile, is looking for the same thing: A healthy environment populated by all types of animals.
The proof is in the pudding of my email inbox. Hardly a week goes by during the summer without a call to action for trail or ecological restoration by one of the many environmental or recreation-oriented nonprofits from Rifle to Aspen. I hear from Wilderness Workshop, Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers and Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association and read about trail work that’s being led by four-wheeling groups from Rifle to Vail.
Given the raucous debates we have around here over public lands, it’s nice to see some unity of purpose in treating our backcountry with the respect it deserves, because once it’s damaged by human activity, the land is very difficult to restore.
On Aug. 1, the Wilderness Workshop, where I am a board member, is hosting a party to celebrate our public lands and all the joy we derive from them. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is invited to this event, which will run from 1 to 11 p.m. at The Other Side Ranch in Old Snowmass, above East Sopris Creek. There will be great music, panel discussions, locally produced food and beverages, a community painted mural, kids activities and more. It will be a blast. Check it out and purchase tickets at wildernessworkshop.org.
Below is an account of a restoration project up the Fryingpan let by Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers, Wilderness Workshop and the U.S. Forest Service. Justin Patrick’s writing shows how difficult and important restoration work is.
“Twenty-five volunteers gathered on a Friday afternoon in June to assist with a multi-year project to restore a wetlands corridor above Clear Creek Reservoir. The area they were working on was once a commercial fishing retreat that dammed Lime Creek to produce several artificial trout farms for guests to fish to their heart’s content. However, the operation was abandoned in the mid-1970s.
“The Forest Service had drained one pond in preparation for the weekend, leaving a dirt scar. It was up to volunteers to bring in the love and hard work.
“We divided into teams. One shoveled out cubes of sedge, a wetlands grass whose tightly knit root structure prevents erosion and facilitates filtration, from healthy areas. The sedge was transported to another crew that clipped the grass blades and singled out root bulbs that could flourish upon replanting. The hand-size clumps were shuttled to teams wading in the wet, muddy irrigation areas, ready to dig out small holes and insert the sedge. In two years the plants will combine into a collective unit, forming the basis for a recovered wetlands ecosystem.
“Volunteers ranged in age from 7 to 70. Concerned citizens from many walks of life were represented. We camped overnight, and RFOV provided hot meals and cool drinks to keep us happy and fueled. In truth, we were largely self-sufficient.
“We worked tirelessly from just after sunrise until late afternoon, both Saturday and Sunday. The results were plain. That dry muddy scar had been replaced by corridors of budding sedge plants. The operation will be repeated on the other artificial ponds, perhaps as early as this fall. In as few as three years there may be a half-mile stretch of healthy wetlands surrounding Lime Creek.”
We live in a land worth maintaining preserving, restoring and, in some place, protecting. And we can all get along in doing just that.
Allyn Harvey is a Carbondale resident and writer. He serves on the town Board of Trustees and runs a PR and political consultancy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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