Around here in Colorado, groups of environmentalists are proposing a fairly major addition of Wilderness acreage. The “Hidden Gems” Wilderness proposal will eliminate a number of mountain bike trails as well as obviate numerous areas with terrific potential for superb mountain biking. Our local newspaper, the Sopris Sun, recently published a good article about this, synopsis below. What do you guys think? Do we have enough legal Wilderness — and it’s time for more recreation friendly yet still conservation oriented alternatives? Or should we just make ever more legal Wilderness? Where does it stop?
Local Mountain Bikers Push Wilderness Alternative
By Terray Sylvester
A mountain bike advocacy group is working to preserve mountain biking access in the face of formal wilderness designations proposed for more than 150,000 acres of local backcountry.
The Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association, RFMBA‘, is proposing alternative designations for most of the public lands that the Hidden Gems campaign is seeking to protect in the Roaring Fork and Crystal River valleys.
RFMBA hopes those alternatives can protect the terrain in question from industry and motorized uses while leaving open mountain bike access…
“We’re doing our best to bring some realities to the table: I think a lot of people are not clear with the fact that [legally designated] wilderness equals no bikes,” said Mike Pritchard, a founding member of RFMBA. “For a tourist-based place where it’s all about recreation, this is just, it’s wild that we would consider bringing wilderness down so close to our towns.”
But the coalition behind the Hidden Gems Proposal says it cannot support such a broad departure from the formal protections offered by wilderness designation….
Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop – a member of the Hidden Gems campaign – said the coalition is open to further discussion about keeping specific areas open to mountain biking, but that “a blanket application of alternative designations for all of these landscapes is not something we’re willing to entertain.”
Personally, I like the legal Wilderness we have but am against making more. Instead, I’d like to see other methods of land management that are still conservation oriented but more recreation friendly. To that end, I write letters to the USFS and politicians asking that they not approve new Wilderness designations, but rather work with alternative management styles. Whatever your opinion about this, I encourage you to write letters!
If you want to advocate for mountain bike access to our remaining non-Wilderness Colorado backcountry lands, join the RFMBA.
Also, see the “Say No to Hidden Gems” Facebook Group.
(Some readers might wonder what this issue has to do with backcountry skiing. It’s huge because in many cases this “buffer zone” land just outside existing legal Wilderness is the only option for locating mountain huts. Make it into legal Wilderness; no more new huts. What’s more, it should always be mentioned that developing sport climbing areas is nearly impossible in legal Wilderness. Since such climbing areas are generally developed in “frontcountry” close to roads, and this new Wilderness takes much of such terrain, you can bet it’s locking up plenty of potential climbing areas.)
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.