John Wilber: Hang gliders wary of Hidden Gems
Secretary, Rocky Mountain Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association
I am writing regarding the Hidden Gems Wilderness proposal, specifically the Williams Fork area in Summit County.
The Williams Fork ridge has been a very popular hang gliding site for over 30 years. It is one of the very few areas in Colorado that offers a great launch and an excellent LZ. The landing area is currently threatened by a proposed power line along Highway 9 for a new marina, now the launch is threatened by a proposed wilderness area.
The Williams Fork mountain range is a premier site to fly hang gliders. Altitudes in excess of 14,000 feet are routinely reached, flights can last for hours, and cross-country flights to Keystone, Granby, and beyond are possible. Additionally, this is an excellent location for students to get their first high mountain flights. Flying from the Williams Fork early in the morning when the air is calm and landing at the lake is an excellent and safe first introduction to the joys of flying in the Colorado Rockies. Losing the launch and the landing field by the lake will severely impact the ability to safely train new pilots.
I have always been quite supportive of wilderness areas, and have backpacked extensively in wilderness areas throughout the American West. I have never understood why a hang glider was banned in a wilderness area. It is a very low-impact sport, quiet, and harms no one. I would like to submit two proposals for your consideration when regarding the Williams Fork wilderness proposal:
Alternative 1: Remove the Williams Fork from the proposal. This would ensure that the hang gliding community did not lose the launch.
Alternative 2: Change the proposal to allow hang gliding for perpetuity. The hang gliding community needs a very small area of the proposed wilderness area to launch our hang gliders (just off the road along the top of the ridge), and we also need the rights to fly silently over the wilderness area. We do not need to land or drive our vehicles in the wilderness area.
Many years ago the hang gliding community was faced with a similar issue regarding power lines as the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) proposed installing high-voltage power lines along the top of Williams Fork ridge. Investing quite a bit of our time our time, effort, and RMHPA funds, we worked with WAPA, the Forest Service, land owners, and our congressional representatives to reach a compromise solution that placed the lines below the top of the ridge to where they are today. It would be quite a shame to lose our flying site now after all of that effort in the past. I seek a similar solution to mitigate the restrictions the proposed wilderness area would present to hang glider and paraglider pilots flying there today.
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