Sloane Peak

A collaborative effort to protect recreational access and ecological values
Sloan Peak hiker

Recreationists and conservationists have the opportunity to work together to develop a permanent protective plan for Sloane Peak.

We’re convening a collaborative effort with recreational user groups and adjacent landowners to protect this backcountry area north of Woody Creek.

The Sloane Peak area is a 44,000-acre triangle of Forest Service land between Woody Creek, Snowmass Canyon and the Fryingpan River. Though not well known by that name, it’s a highly visible parcel (it includes the redrock country immediately north of Snowmass Canyon) and it’s one of the few big unprotected parcels left in the Roaring Fork watershed.

Our goal is to permanently protect Sloane Peak in a way that preserves both the recreational and ecological values of the area. Toward that end, we’re working collaboratively with the stakeholders in the area: mountain bikers, dirt bikers, hunters and outfitters, snowmobilers, horseback riders, hikers and nearby residents. To honor the collaborative process, we can’t dictate the outcome, but it would likely take the form of a proposal to our members of Congress recommending legislation that overlays a patchwork of protective designations on the landscape.

About half of the Sloane Peak area was originally included in the Hidden Gems wilderness proposal, but the parcel was withdrawn at the request of recreational groups. We at the Wilderness Workshop recognize that recreational uses are a fact on the ground in many parts of the area, and are reflected in the Forest Service’s new travel management plan. However, the extent and intensity of these uses is increasing, as our local population swells and as technological advances allow machines to cover more ground and reach ever steeper and more remote places. WW’s mission is to make sure that nature doesn’t get crowded out in places like Sloane Peak, which has extensive forests and very rich mid-elevation wildlife habitat that is in danger of being fragmented and degraded.

The management of the Sloane Peak area could change at any time by administrative decision. The process we’re initiating offers recreationists and conservationists the chance to trade the current uncertain arrangements for the permanence of Congressional legislation. The community will benefit from having the assurance that a major backcountry area will continue to support a sustainable level of recreation that’s compatible with wildlife and ecological values, and that the area will never be developed by extractive industries.

As we have often noted, there are downsides to non-wilderness processes. They can be highly labor-intensive to get right. Not based on an “organic” act (e.g., the Wilderness Act), each one must be a customized negotiation between various stakeholders. There’s a risk that extractive industries will try to get their nose under the tent and use the process to authorize logging, mining or drilling. Thus we don’t advocate this approach for lands that are worthy of wilderness designation, but Sloane Peak is a case where non-wilderness designations belong on the table.