Pitkin County backs portion of Hidden Gems wilderness plan

The Pitkin County Commissioners Wednesday unanimously voted to support the Hidden Gems wilderness proposal, which would designate nearly 63,000 acres of public lands in Pitkin County as wilderness area. That designation limits mechanized travel.

According to the Aspen Times, the commissioners voted 4-0 – with one commissioner absent – to back the longstanding and in some cases controversial proposal, which has now been broken down into more digestible chunks.

The original Hidden Gems proposal included U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands in four counties, including Pitkin, Gunnison, Eagle and Summit.

Before Congress went out on its summer recess, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, whose 2nd Congressional District includes Eagle and Summit counties, floated the Eagle and Summit County Wilderness Preservation Act, which would designate 88,000 acres of new wilderness and 78,000 acres as special management areas.

The Pitkin County commissioners only supported wilderness designation with the county boundaries. A Nov. 23 public hearing will determine whether the Gunnison County commissioners support the Hidden Gems proposal in that county.

Opponents of new wilderness argued for more negotiation, which has been under way for two years. They want to keep more public lands open to mechanized (mountain biking) and motorized (all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles) travel.

But proponents say many concessions have already made and Colorado’s public lands need to be fully preserved as wilderness for future generations. They plan to take the Hidden Gems proposal for Pitkin and Gunnison counties to U.S. Rep.-elect Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, in hopes he’ll sponsor a wilderness bill similar to the Polis bill.

Tipton beat out 3rd Congressional District Rep. John Salazar earlier this month. Salazar has already sponsored a wilderness bill in the San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado.

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