The largest North American bird, the California condor, isn’t found in Colorado, let alone Summit County. We do have bald eagles and golden eagles, but next to a condor, our eagles are pikers. Golden eagles are 2½ feet long, weigh 10 pounds and have a 6½-foot wingspan. Pretty impressive until you consider the California condor, which weighs more than twice as much, is 16 inches longer and whose wingspan, at 109 inches, is 2½ feet broader than the eagle.
At the other end of the spectrum is a diminutive wisp of a bird, only 3 inches in length and weighing no more than a penny, the calliope hummingbird, the smallest bird north of Mexico. In many ways, this bird is more impressive than the condor, and you can find it in Summit County.
A condor outweighs a calliope by a lot, tipping the scales at about 3,700 calliopes. But a calliope can do a lot of things a condor can’t, such as hovering and flying backwards, sideways, up, down and even upside down. Calliope hummingbirds also are a lot prettier than a condor, and they’ll come to your sugar-water feeder, which, fortunately, condors won’t.
Most people think of loud steam-driven organ-like instruments and carousels when they hear the word “calliope,” but the tiny hummer was actually named after the Greek muse for epic poetry and eloquence. This choice is better than a big, noisy machine but still far from perfect. “Epic” doesn’t fit well with a bird that is picked on relentlessly by other hummingbirds, and “eloquent” is a stretch for a mostly silent creature, but “poetic,” at least, is getting close.
Male calliopes are dramatically poetic and unmistakable, with a uniquely striped and stunning magenta gorget. Females and immature birds are harder to identify, but look for noticeably short-tailed, short-billed tiny birds with wings longer than tails. These birds also are at the bottom of the hummingbird pecking order and are regularly driven away from feeders by more aggressive hummers.
The calliope hummingbird is a western mountain breeder, nesting in California north to British Columbia and Alberta and east into Montana, Wyoming and Utah. Wintering in Mexico, the calliope’s migration path strays east to Colorado, New Mexico and Texas, and this is one of just three hummers we enjoy in Summit County, and only during its southbound migration in late summer, primarily July and August.
We hang several feeders on our condo’s deck in Keystone at 9,300 feet, and during late summer, Rufous and broad-tailed hummingbirds are as thick as bees as they gain weight for their journey on to Mexico. Although broad-tailed hummingbirds hang out in Summit County from spring to fall, nesting in the High Country, Rufous hummingbirds, like calliopes, just stick around long enough to refuel on their long international flight back to Mexico. Calliopes are far fewer in number than the other two, consequently generating much more excitement when they do show up. There is something magical about pennyweight birds so small they have trouble reaching the holes in a hummingbird feeder from the perch.
As summer winds down and thoughts turn to skiing, keep your hummingbird feeders filled and your eyes peeled. With luck, you’ll be treated to a poetically colored calliope hummingbird, one of the few things that can rival fall aspen. And be thankful we get North America’s smallest bird at our feeders, rather than the largest.
Bob Bowers is a naturalist and freelance writer specializing in nature and travel articles. He writes a monthly birding column for an Arizona newspaper, lives in the mountain foothills near Tucson and spends much of his summer in Keystone. He writes a birding and travel blog,www.birdingthebrookeandbeyond.com, and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Epic Discovery will make the national forest more accessible and engaging and will also create jobs in our community and contribute positively to the local economy,” said Chris Jarnot, senior vice president and COO of Vail Mountain, in a news release.
The Forest Service approved all of the resort’s proposed new features except one of the alpine coasters and the permanent wedding venue.
In the draft decision document, which will become final in October after a 45-day objection period, White River National Forest supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams wrote,“I believe that our national forests are neither amusement parks nor circus attractions. They are far more valuable and unique, and this suite of projects will not change that expectation. With these projects, the nature-based experience at our resorts is only being enhanced, not degraded.”
Roger Poirer, the project’s leader for the White River National Forest, said while each Forest Service decision on summer expansion proposals will be site-specific, the agency recognizes that the Vail Mountain decision sets a precedent and will lead to similar proposals in the future.
“The White River has always been the proving ground for decisions like this,” he said.
TWO FEATURES REJECTED
The Pride Express Mountain Coaster was not approved, he said, because the resort didn’t provide enough information for the Forest Service to properly analyze the impacts of the attraction.
The proposal showed the coaster going over busy skiing terrain with at least a dozen towers, he said, which wouldn’t fit with the agency’s directive to approve only features that are “subordinate to existing vegetation and landscape.”
The proposal’s other coaster was approved, though, because it would be in a forested island next to the resort’s Adventure Ridge park area, which opened in 1996, and would be hard to see from ski trails, he said.
“We’re not just approving blanket activities,” he said, like coasters or zip lines. “It’s about the design process and how much information they give us.”
A multipurpose facility might be allowed under the resort’s special use permit, Poirer said, so the resort could modify the two features that weren’t approved and propose them again in coming years as part of a separate project.
Vail Resorts plans to construct the approved trails and activities in summer 2015.
Before that, Poirer said, the Forest Service will work with the resort and its contractors to adjust and approve the nitty-gritty details of each new feature in a stage called the building design review process.
The Forest Service has 60 years of experience with approving winter sports infrastructure at ski resorts, while summer activities are relatively new and don’t have industry standards. The agency will analyze functional and aesthetic aspects of each feature to ensure they fit with the setting.
“The public, the forest and the resorts — we want to make sure that we’re getting what we’re authorizing,” Poirer said. “We’re not going to use Disney colors.”
The proposals followed the passage of the 2011 Ski Area Recreational Opportunities Enhancement Act, championed by U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, which amended the 1986 National Forest Ski Area Permit Act to allow more activities at ski resorts on national forest lands.
For the resorts, it makes financial sense to spread out real estate revenue throughout the year and transition more employees to year-round positions.
The resorts’ Forest Service landlord, meanwhile, wants more people, in terms of quantity and diversity of age and background, to have positive outdoor experiences that lead them to politically support the agency and conservation efforts.
According to the Forest Service, summer use at Vail Mountain increased 100 percent between 2008 and 2013, averaging 103,600 visitors a year (measured by the number of lift tickets sold for the resort’s two gondolas).
Locals opposed to the expansions have argued against bringing more tourists and traffic to the High Country.
WHAT TO EXPECT in BRECK
At Breckenridge, the resort wants to add zip lines, ropes courses, bike trails, a high mountain lookout tour, a climbing wall and summer operation of two existing above-tree-line lifts — 6-Chair and Imperial Express.
That resort is seeing 18 percent growth annually, Poirer said, and the people who would use the new activities are already there.
Though the White River National Forest is using the same process to scrutinize both High Country proposals, what is ultimately approved at Breckenridge won’t be based on what is approved at Vail.
“The setting at Breckenridge really is very different from that of Vail,” Poirer said. The resorts share some proposed activities and both are owned by Vail Resorts, but “it’s a different mountain, it’s a different client base and it’s a different project.”
The final environmental impact statement released last week for the Vail project analyzes effects to recreation, visuals, social and economic resources, wildlife and aquatic resources, watershed and wetlands, and vegetation.
The agency added more information to the document on the proposal’s effects on scenery and recreation based on the federal direction released in April.
Other than that, the final analysis looks very similar to its draft because the draft received about 50 comments, Poirer said, or relatively little feedback for a project of its size.
“I guarantee that’ll be different for the Breckenridge EIS,” he said, adding that he expects maybe 10 times the number of comments on that draft. “The Breckenridge community is a little more engaged.”
ENVIRONMENTAL AND OTHER CONCERNS
In previous public comment periods, government officials with the town of Breckenridge and Summit County expressed concerns about soil and water quality and local residents spoke up about protecting moose, elk, deer, lynx and snowshoe hare habitat.
“We heard loud and clear that the alpine environment is a concern for members of the public,” Poirer said.
Issues about above-tree-line areas were also raised by the project’s interdisciplinary team, which includes a botanist, wildlife biologist, soils specialist, hydrologist, landscape architect, archaeologist and recreation specialist, and analyzes the effects of the project on the environment and existing activities and determines potential mitigations.
At Vail, environmental concerns were almost nonexistent. The issues raised by the Forest Service and the general public were more social and questioned how proposed recreation would intersect with existing activities.
The Forest Service is still developing the draft environmental impact statement for Breckenridge, Poirer said, which will look at questions like, “What would people do once they get off Imperial Chair?” and “What kind of facilities might the resort need to add there to make the experience safe?”
He expects that document will be released in the next few months for public comment.
“I’m pretty confident the alternatives we’ve come up with are going to address all concerns,” he said. “It’s important for us as well as the public to really take a hard look at this.”
To view the Forest Service documents associated with the Vail project, visit vailrec-eis.info.
It’s that time of year when bears prepare for winter hibernation, knowing they have just a few short months to layer on enough fat to survive their long winter’s nap.
During the late summer months, a bear’s calorie needs skyrocket from about 2,500 calories a day to more than 20,000. Bears are known to travel more than 60 miles in search of food and they forage almost nonstop.
The Breckenridge Police Department and Colorado Parks and Wildlife have received an increase in bear calls in recent days. Most of the calls stem from bears wandering into town to feed in local garbage cans. Eating trash not only is unhealthy for the bears, but also is problematic for the community and could result in a ticket for homeowners.
The town of Breckenridge has a trash ordinance to help reduce wildlife numbers, including bears, that come into town to forage for food. The ordinance addresses placement and use of garbage cans and similar receptacles.
According to the ordinance, garbage may be placed at a curbside only from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the day of trash services. Garbage may be placed outside for pickup only if it is fully contained in an appropriate receptacle.
The lid of the container must be securely attached, leaving no gaps between the container and lid. All households are required to store garbage cans inside a home, garage, building or shed, unless a resident’s garbage can is equipped with a bear-proof mechanism that will hold the lid securely to the can.
For more information about living with bears, visitColorado Parks and Wildlife online. To report bear sightings or nuisances, call CPW at (970) 725-6200 or the Breckenridge Police Department at 453-2941.
“Roll up, roll up for the mystery tour Roll up, roll up for the mystery tour Roll up (We’ve got everything you need), roll up for the mystery tour Roll up (Satisfaction guaranteed), roll up for the mystery tour The magical mystery tour is hoping to take you away Hoping to take you away”
— from the Beatles’
“Magical Mystery Tour”
“We’re just trying to create a safe, comfortable and fun setting. And you don’t have to consume cannabis to enjoy this.” Philip Wolf Cultivating Spirits
A Cadillac Escalade stretch limo winds around the road on the south side of Lake Dillon. Light fades during sunset, reddening the western horizon over the Gore Range, while deep purple stains the sky above the Continental Divide to the east.
The lights of Frisco and Dillon flicker like stars on opposite shores of a cosmic abyss. And inside the limo, lighters spark over bowls, illuminating faces in a flash, followed by billowing clouds of sativa smoke.
The scenic, marijuana-infused drive around Lake Dillon is but one part of a series of luxury cannabis tours conducted by a Summit County company.
“This is definitely a one-of-a-kind experience,” said Philip Wolf, director of development for Cultivating Spirits, the company hosting the tours.
Although several other entrepreneurs from Colorado and elsewhere have also started conducting cannabis tours, Wolf said Cultivating Spirits has set its trips apart by putting the focus on luxury.
WE’VE GOT EVERYTHING YOU NEED
Is the legalization of marijuana leading to more tourism in the state? The question is not easily answered.
The Colorado Office of State Planning and Budgeting reported the state received $19 million during the first half of the year in tax revenue from the sale of recreational marijuana and more than $34 million total.
However, it’s difficult to know statewide what percentage of those recreational sales figures can be attributed to tourists. One state study found that tourists are responsible for as much as 90 percent of recreational pot sales in some ski towns. Recreational sales certainly spike at Breckenridge dispensaries when flocks of tourists are in town, according to tax revenue data.
Colorado also has posted a record ski season and a record summer tourist season since legalization.
Even college applications are up. Colorado State University has seen a 30 percent increase in out-of-state applicants since the beginning of the year.
And a recent study released by Massachusetts-based travel firm Hopper found a marked increase in traveler interests. Its results showed traveler interest in Colorado has increased by 20 percent since recreational marijuana first hit the market Jan. 1.
“The early data overwhelmingly demonstrates that Colorado’s program is a success,” Mike Elliot of the Marijuana Industry Group said in a statement earlier this month. “The dire predictions of our opponents have failed to materialize. Colorado is seeing record tourism, record real estate and increases in tax revenue and jobs.”
Ralf Garrison is a senior analyst at DestiMetrics, a Denver company that studies lodging patterns in the Mountain West. While he confirmed that he can’t find a direct correlation between the legalization of recreational marijuana and the increased tourism, he said he believes there is definitely a connection between the two.
“We can’t draw a clear correlation with the research we have, but we do know when more tourists are in town, recreational marijuana sales increase,” Garrison said. “The three busiest days of marijuana sales in the Denver area have coincided with the biggest sporting events of the year.”
He said while marijuana might not be the primary reason tourists are visiting Colorado, it’s become a secondary activity.
“It’s like if someone takes a trip to the mountains to go biking, they might later decide to go fly-fishing, too,” Garrison said. “The tourists are traveling here for one activity, but many are adding a stop by the dispensary to their itinerary.”
COMING TO TAKE YOU AWAY
While Garrison finds tourists might not be flocking to Colorado exclusively for marijuana, Wolf wants to change that with his company’s high-end tours.
Cultivating Spirits offers several types of tours. The day-long excursion features trips to grows, dispensary tours and glass blowing. The “Sensational Fusion Experience” includes a gourmet dinner, wine tastings and pairings of marijuana strains with particular meals. The “THC Fusion Experience” provides instruction on cooking with cannabis. The company also hosts and caters private events, such as weddings and corporate retreats, and can customize the experience depending on what the client wants.
The tours have been up and running for a couple of months now, attracting a variety of tourists.
On a tour last Saturday, the group was treated to an in-depth discussion of how to cook with cannabis by Jessica Catalano, author of “The Ganja Kitchen Revolution: The Bible of Cannabis Cuisine.” The tour group included some people well versed in cannabis culture and others with little to no experience.
The group gathered at tables set up around a professional kitchen while Catalano shared knowledge and answered questions that proved helpful to novice and expert alike.
“I had a lot wrong,” said Nick, who was on the tour with a couple of friends from Denver and asked that his last name not be used. “As far as the cooking goes I learned a lot. I had the cooking times and temperatures wrong. It was good to know that in just an hour you can get the cannabis profile locked into the butter, which can then come through in the meal. We’re going to experiment with this.”
After the educational segment and a gourmet appetizer, the group loaded into the limo to visit a local dispensary, High Country Healing, in Silverthorne. There the budtenders spent time discussing strains, in particular Casey Jones, a sativa with an earthy and citrus-like flavor that was being paired with the gourmet dinner and dessert to be served later.
“We educate about the history of the strain and how to pair it with food,” Wolf said.
For instance, one of the tours featured Durban Poison, a strain native to the South African port town. It was paired with pan-seared halibut, incorporating flavors and geography into the pairing.
Following the trip to the dispensary, the limo cruised around the lake, while the group was able to sample the cannabis in the back. While smoking cannabis in public and on public roadways is against the law, the partition dividing the driver from the activities in the back make it perfectly legal. It’s the same way the law applies to drinking alcohol inside a limo.
Everyone is provided with a new glass pipe and a lighter. After sampling the wares, and strong appetites start to kick in, the limo made its way back to the kitchen where Catalano was adding the final touches to a meal featuring steak and pan-seared wild Alaskan salmon. A dessert of chocolate mousse covering soft butter cookies highlighted by a sprig of fresh mint and a raspberry, capped the experience. Then the limo dropped the tourgoers back at their condos and hotels.
By the end of the night, most of the tourists had a greater appreciation for marijuana and the future of the industry.
“I think this kind of thing is going to become even more prevalent,” said Brent, of Denver, who asked that his last named not be used. “For example, I think you’ll see more marijuana-themed weddings. Obviously we’ve had that happen already. I think cannabis-themed events and cannabis tourism is a rising industry.”
One man on the tour was interested in starting his own marijuana-based business, possibly a bed and breakfast, and was on the tour to learn all he could about this nascent industry.
MAKE A RESERVATION
Cultivating Spirits isn’t the first to hold cannabis tours.
A company in Denver has started a similar business, but not as high-end as the Silverthorne tour. My 420 Tours conducts tours every Saturday with prices ranging from $150 for a day tour to more than $1,200 for a three-day tour on which patrons stay in marijuana-friendly hotels.
Even some out-of-state entrepreneurs are getting involved. Rick Moore owns R.L. Moore Bus Tours of Dallas. Since February he’s been orchestrating marijuana tours. He takes passengers on the 12-hour drive from Dallas to Denver, where they then visit dispensaries and spend a night or two at a hotel before trekking back to a non-cannabis region.
And these tours actually provide a critical need for marijuana tourists by providing a safe and legal place to use herb.
The biggest issue tourists face is finding a place to smoke. According to the law, marijuana cannot be consumed in public. It’s very difficult to find any private establishment that will allow it. And most every hotel has a no-smoking policy. Consequently, hotel rooms with balconies are in much higher demand.
“Hotel managers and owners have noticed this and are taking advantage by setting higher rates on rooms with balconies,” Garrison said. “More than ever people want to be part of Colorado cool.”
Meanwhile, Wolf is focused on growing his burgeoning tourism business. For a couple of years he’s worked as a consultant for grows, helping growers increase their yields and potency. His background in the industry gives him a deeper experience and understanding, which he then uses when designing the tours. And the company is giving 5 percent of all profits back to local charities.
“We’re just trying to create a safe, comfortable and fun setting,” Wolf said. “And you don’t have to consume cannabis to enjoy this. It’s still enjoyable to come along and learn about the process while sampling gourmet food and wine and learning about the history and the laws. It’s a really awesome experience.”
While the debate continues on whether the record number of tourists is marijuana-related, there’s no question tourists are taking advantage and so are entrepreneurs.
The Breckenridge Backstage Theatre presents “Shrek the Musical” in a two-weekend run, opening Thursday, Aug. 28, at the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge.
The show is a song- and dance-filled stage adaptation of the Oscar-winning DreamWorks animated film “Shrek,” and instead of a knight riding a noble steed, the star of the irreverent fairytale is Shrek, a swamp-dwelling ogre, played by Backstage veteran TJ Hogle.
“He’s not necessarily the most attractive hero that there is, and he’s definitely unorthodox,” Hogle said of his character. “He doesn’t rescue the princess the same way everyone else would rescue the princess. He has lived a different life; he’s a loner, and he doesn’t really like being around people.”
It falls upon actor Tony Ilano’s loud-mouthed character of Donkey to bring Shrek out of his shell and socialize the reluctant hero.
“That’s what sets up their relationship, for Donkey and Shrek,” Hogle said. “Shrek is not enjoying being around anybody, and Donkey spends the entire show working on Shrek to loosen him up and become friends, which you finally see at the end of the show.”
“Donkey’s character — he’s super funny, comic relief,” Ilano said. “The relationship that he has with Shrek is interesting, to say the least, and I think it’s fun.”
Carolyn Lohr plays the role of Princess Fiona, and Damon Guerrasio assumes the persona of Lord Farquaad, which requires him to spend most of the show hobbling around the stage on his knees.
“It was a lot of fun fleshing out that character and figuring out why he would act certain ways and the physical challenge of dancing on your knees,” Guerrasio said. “Jessica (Belflower), our choreographer, came up with some really amazing, really fun stuff for me to do.”
“Shrek” fans will recognize all of the beloved characters from the film, including The Three Blind Mice, Gingy, Pinocchio and even a huge puppet version of Dragon.
“The plot line and characters will be totally recognizable,” Ilano said.
SCREEN TO STAGE
The show was a challenge to bring to stage for a number of reasons, the first being the far-flung locales of the actors, the majority of whom live in Summit County, with the rest, including most of the lead characters, traveling from Denver.
“We didn’t have our first group rehearsals until last Sunday, a week and a half ago; that was the first time that all of us got to meet each other, be in the same room together,” Hogle said. “The biggest challenge has been really that separation, the coming together as a cast for the first time so late in the rehearsal process.”
Guerrasio said one of his personal challenges, aside from the physically strenuous nature of his role, was trying to balance the Lord Farquaad made famous by the voice of John Lithgow in the film and the newer incarnations put to stage by the various actors who have played the character in the musical adaptation.
“I love the ‘Shrek’ movie, and I love John Lithgow’s version of Farquaad, and I wanted to bring that about,” Guerrasio said. “It seems like a lot of the performances, the versions of the musical that have been out, a lot of the actors kind of upended that character of this bloated, overdone Farquaad. I wanted to get it back a little bit but keep that new, fresh Lord Farquaad character that the musical brought about, a little bratty and Little Lord Fauntleroy. … It came out to what got more laughs.”
ADDING THE MUSIC
Hogle said the story is attractive to children and adults alike, and the music is very beautiful.
“For children, its appealing because it’s that fantasy of princess and prince charming and fairytale creatures,” he said. “There’s some underlying adult humor, nothing too serious, but there’s some adult jokes in there that I think kids might not really get.”
“The music is incredible; I love the music,” Guerrasio said. “Those songs really help explain where the character’s coming from. It rounds out the explanation of the character and the description of what every person’s role in the show is.”
Song themes range from a battle of flatulence between Shrek and Fiona to Farquaad’s totalitarian view of his kingdom of Duloc to a second-half song about where the little lord came from and his father.
“So you have a good back story with all the music, as well as all the characters that people know and love,” Guerrasio said.
If you’ve spent any time on social media lately, you’ve probably seen it — videos of people dumping buckets of ice water on their heads. The footage is an example of “going viral” at its best, with each video spawning several more as people challenge their friends and family to do the same. And while Summit County may be remote in some people’s books, it is in no way immune to the trends of the Internet age.
SPOTLIGHT ON ALS
ALS stands for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and is a progressive degenerative disease that attacks nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain. This affects voluntary muscle movement and may eventually lead to paralysis. There is currently no cure for ALS.
It is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, after the famous New York Yankees baseball player who died from it in 1941.
According to the ALS Association, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to education, raising awareness and creating funding for research related to the disease, the “ice bucket challenge” trend was initiated by Pete Frates, a former Division 1 college baseball athlete in Massachusetts. Diagnosed with ALS two years ago at age 27, Frates has been active in raising awareness ever since.
The challenge works to both raise funds and raise awareness through visibility. Though the rules vary depending on where you look, the general idea is this — a person is nominated to take the ice bucket challenge and has 24 hours to either donate $100 to an ALS-related organization, or dump a bucket of ice water onto their head and donate only $10. They then get to nominate others, usually about three, to do it as well, and so it spreads.
“We wanted it to be specific to Bristlecone Health Services, so we donated in honor of ALS patients that we have cared for and currently are caring for, because we know what a difficult journey they’re going through and it was a way for us to make it more local,” said Armstrong.
“As a fundraiser myself, this campaign is brilliant,” said Sarah Vaine, chief executive officer of the care clinic. “Anything like that that makes people want to learn more about a problem or a cause and then give to it is remarkable.”
She admitted that she hadn’t known a lot about ALS before the challenge, and that it inspired her to learn more.
“Our whole team learned more about it and learned that we have a number of people in our clinic family that have been impacted by ALS and that was very important for us to know that and hear what it’s like to have a loved one suffering from it,” she said.
After being doused by the ice-cold water, the clinic nominated the Bristlecone Foundation, The Summit Foundation and The Summit Medical Center Foundation. Bristlecone, in turn, nominated the Summit Daily News, Krystal 93 radio station and the Rotary Club of Summit County. Each water dump was accompanied by a donation to ALS.
“I’m willing to get the big buckets,” said Roman Moore of Krystal 93, of his plans to answer the challenge. “The more people are aware of it, … I think that’s all good.”
BY THE NUMBERS
In less than two months, the ALS Association has reported that donations have reached record numbers. On Monday, Aug. 25, the organization reported that it had received $79.7 million in donations compared to $2.5 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to Aug. 25). The donations came in from existing donors as well as 1.7 million new donors.
“The ALS Association is thankful for the incredible generosity and spirit of the thousands of people who have accepted the Ice Bucket Challenge,” Barbara Newhouse, president and CEO of the ALS Association, stated in a press release. “These dollars will make a difference in propelling The Association’s three-prong mission.”
Those prongs are raising awareness of ALS, leading and collaborating on global research and providing services to ALS patients and their families.
High Country nature and outdoor enthusiasts likely won’t notice much difference if Congress designates about a dozen new public-land protections. But our kids’ kids might.
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, announced in Breckenridge Sunday the introduction of a conservation bill that would designate 60,000 acres of national forest land in Summit and Eagle counties with federal wilderness and recreation area protections.
“This proposal will benefit wildlife, strengthen our local businesses and economy and protect our beautiful wilderness in order to ensure it can be enjoyed by generations to come,” he said. “We’re going to continue to work until we pass this ball into law.”
The Rocky Mountain Recreation and Wilderness Preservation Act would designate 40,000 acres of new wilderness and expansions to existing wilderness areas including the Eagles Nest and Holy Cross wildernesses.
Sen. Mark Udall is reviewing public comments, making adjustments and crafting legislation that closely resembles Polis’ bill, but adds Pitkin County. Udall is expected to introduce his bill in early 2015.
According to Conservation Colorado, the bill is a critical step toward a larger Central Mountains effort to protect 250,000 acres in and around the White River National Forest, the most highly visited national forest in the country.
Other speakers at the event at Carter Park in Breckenridge included Summit County Commissioner Karn Steigelmeier, Arapahoe Basin Ski Area chief operating officer Alan Henceroth, Colorado Rep. Millie Hamner, Conservation Colorado executive director Pete Maysmith and Backpacker magazine editor-in-chief Dennis Lewon.
About 20 people, including representatives from Polis’ office, Wilderness Workshop, Wilderness Society and local residents, attended.
DITCHING AN OLD NAME
Conservationists have been promoting similar legislation, formerly known as the Hidden Gems Wilderness Proposal, for at least eight years.
In 2010, advocates formally proposed 244,000 acres of new wilderness designation in Summit and Eagle counties after about four years of study, vetting and deliberation.
Some opposition also came from those charged with protecting communities from wildfire.
For the last two years, Polis has worked with local governments, water providers, land managers, constituents and conservation and recreation organizations to address comments and concerns.
That collaborative process led to a recreation- and conservation-oriented bill, reflected in the proposal’s new name.
The bill would not close any motorized routes or access points currently open to public use.
Instead, some areas would be labeled with “companion designations,” meaning they are wilderness buffers in which motorized recreation and resource extraction would be prohibited, but mountain biking and fire-protection work would be allowed.
Though companion designations were part of Polis’ original legislation, the areas named have been clarified and boundaries adjusted in response to feedback.
This latest bill would designate about 40,000 acres of new wilderness and more than 10,000 acres of recreation management areas in Summit and Eagle.
INCLUDING THE RIDERS
New to the proposal this year is the Tenmile Recreation Management Area, which would be divided into two parts, with one stretching southwest from Frisco, the other south from Breckenridge Ski Resort.
Aaron Clark, conservation manager with the International Mountain Biking Association in Boulder, said he was excited about the Tenmile Recreation Area and proud of the work that has gone into carefully crafting its boundaries.
He called the proposed area a great example of bringing the qualities aspired to in wilderness together with other recreational uses.
According to the Outdoor Industry Association, headquartered in Boulder, outdoor recreation in Colorado generates $13.2 billion in consumer spending and is responsible for 125,000 jobs that pay $4.2 billion in salaries and wages.
A-Basin COO Alan Henceroth said he was particularly excited about the wilderness designation around Porcupine Gulch between A-Basin and Keystone Resort.
One of the proposed wilderness areas at Hoosier Ridge is home to a plant variety that researchers say is found almost nowhere else on earth, said Currie Craven, board president of Friends of the Eagles Nest Wilderness,
People sometimes snowmobile there, he said, threatening the plant, and the wilderness designation could educate people about the importance of preserving the area. He added that snowmobilers could still enjoy riding on trails on both sides of Hoosier Pass, and he applauded Polis’ inclusion of snowmobilers’ wishes when he excluded Elliot Ridge in Eagles Nest Wilderness in this bill.
Snowmobilers and bikers sometimes ride on public lands where they’re not allowed, said Summit County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier, but the bill wouldn’t close any trails or areas designated for motorized use to those users.
Some people will always be philosophically opposed to the idea of wilderness, she added, but people should know these public lands are for the enjoyment and benefit of everyone.
LOCAL SUPPORT, HURDLES IN D.C.
How do you put a dollar number on clean air and water?
A report prepared by Wild Connections, a Colorado conservation nonprofit, quantified the ecosystem services each acre of wilderness provides in terms of water and air purification, and the 60,000 acres proposed in this bill would amount to nearly $10.5 million.
After years of discussions, the latest version of the proposal seems to have broad public support, said Scott Braden, wilderness advocate with Conservation Colorado.
His colleague Susie Kincade lamented that a new wilderness area hasn’t been designated in Colorado since the Dominguez Canyon Wilderness in 2009, despite efforts like Polis’ and historically bipartisan support.
“The sad part about that is, as these bills languish in Congress, the lands are disappearing,” she said. “Once they’re gone, they’re gone.”