Kurt Kunkle: Support Wilderness protection in Summit County | SummitDaily.com

Kurt Kunkle: Support Wilderness protection in Summit County

Kurt Kunkle, Hidden Gems Organizer
Colorado Environmental Coalition

Coloradans have a unique opportunity in the coming weeks to protect Summit County’s important back country from development at public meetings coming up in Breckenridge, Edwards and Boulder. In Breckenridge, Congressman Jared Polis is holding a public meeting about the Hidden Gems Wilderness Proposal on June 4, and your attendance can help make sure these public lands get the attention and protection they deserve.

Please join me and other supporters in Breckenridge at the Colorado Mountain College Community Auditorium at 11:45 a.m. (meeting starts at noon).

Over the past several years, the Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign has worked hard to address community issues; current forest condition being at the top of the list with recreation not far behind. Fire fighting has always been and will always be allowed in wilderness areas, but we recognize the importance this issue plays in our lives in the mountains. The campaign worked with the Summit County Wildfire Council to adjust the proposal to exclude current and future fuel removal projects and certain municipal watersheds from the proposal to insure public safety, and allow for flexibility in managing drinking water sources.

Wilderness areas are open for all to visit and enjoy. Many forms of recreations are allowed in wilderness such as hiking, camping, boating, hunting and fishing. Since some forms of recreation are not allowed in wilderness, such as mountain biking, we worked with the Summit Fat Tire Society to identify and exclude important mountain bike trails.

The campaign is also working with local mountain bikers to add companion designations to the proposal that will protect wilderness-adjacent lands and allow mountain biking. The SFTS has shown great leadership in working with on land protection. They deserve credit for both seeing beyond the handle bars and recognizing the importance of protecting some lands as Wilderness while fighting for places they love to ride.

Some people are not happy with the Hidden Gems proposal. Many simply oppose wilderness on philosophical grounds. Others, particularly motorized users, worry about their opportunities to ride. Our analysis of the proposed wilderness areas shows that the majority of areas open to motorized recreation in the proposed Travel Plan for the White River National Forest will remain open. Many people who visit the backcountry would rather have quiet experiences without dirt bikes and ATVs and snowmobiles running all over the place. Plentiful motorized opportunities will remain on the area’s public lands, even after the Hidden Gems proposal is designated wilderness.

People who cherish our back country, quiet places, solitude and natural lands need to show up at these meetings. Those who want to turn undeveloped public lands into motorparks and open them to other harmful activities are likely to muster their forces. Which is why you need to be there to voice your support for protecting these valuable lands for future generations of both people and wildlife. Please come out and support this carefully crafted proposal on June 4.

See you there.

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