Congressman Polis Introduces Recreation and Wilderness Act

Continental Divide Recreation and Wilderness bill receives local applause from diverse constituency
Photo by John Fielder

Photo by John Fielder

On May 21st, 2015 Wilderness Workshop joined a broad spectrum of outdoor recreationists, sportsmen, business owners, local elected officials and conservationists today in support of a bill to protect nearly 60,000 acres in Summit and Eagle counties. Rep. Jared Polis’ introduction of the Continental Divide Wilderness and Recreation Act would protect nearly 60,000 acres of land in Eagle and Summit counties as wilderness and other designations. The areas serve as popular recreation destinations, critical habitat for wildlife, and sources of clean water.

“It’s been great working with such a diverse coalition of supporters on this land protection bill,” says Will Roush, Conservation Director at the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop. “When you have mountain bikers, local business owners, water providers and ski resorts all pushing to have these lands protected as wilderness and other designations it’s clear this is something Congress should act on quickly.” 

The Continental Divide Wilderness and Recreation Act has the support of Vail Resorts, Dave Gorsuch, International Mountain Bike Association, dozens of local business owners, the Eagle and Summit County commissioners, many towns and a broad coalition of Colorado’s environmental groups.

More than a dozen stakeholder groups have submitted letters to Rep. Polis in support of safeguarding Colorado’s Continental Divide.

At a meeting held in early May with Congressmen Grijalva, the ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, a diverse group od supporters including the Summit Fat Tire Society, Vail Valley Mountain Biking Association, local business owners and water providers all thanked Congressman Polis for working to protect these lands.

The name Continental Divide Wilderness and Recreation Act was chosen during a two-week long contest, in which roughly 200 Coloradans suggested titles that would honor this recreation and wildlife haven to the west of Denver. The contest reflected the “for Coloradans by Coloradans” nature of the proposal.

The legislation would add new areas to Ptarmigan Peak, Holy Cross, and Eagles Nest Wilderness Areas as well as establishing three new Wilderness Areas: Hoosier Ridge, Tenmile, and Williams Fork and the Porcupine Gulch Protection Area. The name for the Act came from a contest that the Congressman’s office held over the last month.

Rep. Polis’ legislation also includes the Tenmile Recreation Management Area, which will protect important lands and trails for mountain biking and other recreation uses. The Boulder Democrat, who represents Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District, and his staff have worked closely with area residents and recreational groups over the last five years to craft a public lands bill that provides protection for the landscape and access for recreational activities.

The Continental Divide Wilderness and Recreation Act would protect ecologically important mid-elevation areas that provide vital wildlife habitat to black bear, elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, moose, lynx, and wild turkey. Preserving Colorado’s Continental Divide also safeguards sportsmen’s time-tested backcountry traditions by securing access to world-class hunting and fishing.

Outdoor recreation is critical to Colorado’s economy, generating $13.2 billion in consumer spending and is responsible for 125,000 jobs that pay $4.2 billion in salaries and wages.  The Continental Divide Wilderness and Recreation Act would play an important role in maintaining and contributing to this important part of our state’s economy.

Wilderness Workshop has long been working to protect special places on the White River National Forest and we are excited to continue this work with Rep. Polis and our two Senators, Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner, to move this bill through Congress and protect the lands included in the Continental Divide Wilderness and Recreation Act.

A series of citizens expressed support for Polis’s work. Below are their statements upon the release of Continental Divide Wilderness and Recreation Act

“For years, people have been coming together to safeguard this portion of the Rocky Mountains – the backbone of our local economy,” said Dan Gibbs, a Summit County Commissioner. “In addition to our thriving outdoor recreation and tourism economy, people choose to live here because of our incredible backyard.”

“Like hikers, skiers, hunters and anglers, mountain bikers have come to love and respect these lands through exploration and adventure. We recognize the need to protect both the ecological resources of the land and the dependent local recreation economies. Congressman Polis’ bill represents a welcomed evolution of land protection using a variety of tools to maximize protection while retaining quality trail access,” said Jason Bertolacci, International Mountain Bicycling Association’s Colorado/Wyoming Regional Director.

Garett Reppenhagen, a U.S. Army Kosovo and Iraq War veteran said, “I fought to protect all that makes our nation great, and that includes the public lands that belong to every American. I want to salute Rep. Jared Polis for his leadership in safeguarding our natural heritage, and look forward to Senator Michael Bennet introducing a Senate companion.”

“Protected public lands help provide clean water and safeguard such lands from future development,” said Joe Macy, Eagle County Resident and Fishing Guide. “Clean water is essential for the healthy fisheries that our guests from all over need to enjoy the outdoors.”