Polis visits to help with trail work, discuss new wilderness bill
COPPER MOUNTAIN — “How many Congressman does it take to place a sign?” was the question of the day Saturday as Rep. Jared Polis fielded queries while volunteering on the Wheeler Trail.
Polis installed a trail sign and helped reestablish a trailhead access point as he told onlookers the Continental Divide Wilderness and Recreation Bill, which he introduced in 2015, seemed to be receiving widespread support so far.
“I think everybody likes it, it has strong support from cities and counties, Eagle and Summit County, local businesses,” Polis said. “The more certainty we can have around preserving our areas and being able to use them for recreation, the better, especially in light of all the danger and talk of public lands being sold off or developed.”
Polis said keeping public lands public is the most important environmental initiative facing Congress.
“Of all of the important battles that we’re fighting, to protect our environment, keep our air clean, make a contribution on climate change, the only thing that can never be undone is if our public lands were privatized,” Polis said. “It’s a high-stakes battle, and we need to enlist all our partners in the outdoor recreation industry, economic development and areas and economies that rely on our public lands.”
MTB AND CLIMBERS SUPPORTIVE
Polis said local stakeholder groups have contributed to and voiced support for the bill including Vail Resorts, the Eagle and Summit County commissioner boards, and the Vail Valley Mountain Biking Association.
On Saturday, Brian Rodine with the Vail Valley Mountain Biking Association joined Polis in expressing how important a wide variety of supporters are to the bill.
“This legislation is the result of bringing together these diverse parties for an open dialogue,” Rodine said. “And it resulted in a broadly supported bill to protect public lands while ensuring accessibility for recreational use.”
In addition to designating 40,000 acres of land for wilderness, where no bikes would be allowed, the bill has 15,000 acres of special management area in the Tenmile Range and Porcupine Gulch where mountain biking would be allowed.
Wilderness in Eagle County would include 1,175 acres in the Freeman Creek area; 5,907 acres in the Spraddle Creek area and 3,942 acres in the area called No Name.
The climbing community has embraced the bill as well, said Erik Murdock with the Access Fund.
With concern over access to climbing areas facing continuous threat in the U.S., the Access Fund’s stated mission is to “protect climbing access and the integrity of America’s outdoor climbing areas” and resist those threats, which do include public land managers over-regulating climbing. Murdock says that’s not the case with the Continental Divide Wilderness and Recreation Bill.
“The legislation has been a great example of a successful stakeholder process,” Murdock said. “It really serves as a model for legislation as well as public land management strategies across the country.”
CAMP HALE DESIGNATION
On a personal note, Murdock also said he supported the fact that Polis was working with Sen. Michael Bennett to add a national historic designation to the bill for nearby Camp Hale, as earlier this year Murdock learned his great uncle trained there in the 1940s as a member of the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army. The 10th Mountain Division used mountaineering techniques developed at Camp Hale to storm into enemy territory in the Italian Alps in 1945.
“Recently we unearthed an 80-page autobiography that details his experience at Camp Hale, the early mountaineering experiences that he had and his passion for patriotism and for fighting fascists World War II.”
“A relevant experience,” Polis said, “to today’s world.”
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