Justin Michael | 08.23.2016

The backcountry near Colorado's Continental Divide features vistas and unique recreational experiences that drive the local economies of Summit and Eagle counties. Conservation Colorado and the Continental Divide Organization are working to ensure protection of these spectacular wild landscapes through the expansion of wilderness areas along Colorado's Continental Divide. Wilderness protection for areas like the proposed Spraddle Creek Wilderness Addition, adjacent to Vail in Eagle County, are fundamental to sustaining Colorado’s unique recreation resources, protecting critical watersheds, preserving important wildlife corridors, and strengthening the tourism economy.

Reviewing the proposed Spraddle Creek Wilderness Area. Photo by Justin Michael.

In early 2015 U.S. Rep. Representative Jared Polis, Colorado, introduced the Continental Divide Wilderness and Recreational Act to protect the natural beauty, outdoor recreation, historic resources, and wildlife habitats of Summit and eastern Eagle counties. The act would create 40,000 acres of new wilderness areas in the Williams Fork Mountains, Tenmile Range, and Hoosier Ridge, and it would expand the existing Holy Cross, Eagles Nest, and Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness areas. The bill would also enhance outdoor recreation opportunities such as fishing, hunting, biking, and backcountry snow sports. For example, it would establish a 11,500-acre Recreation Management Area along the Tenmile Range to protect and provide world-class mountain biking, hiking, and wildlife watching. 

Building on the act's momentum, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet has been working to draft similar legislation in the Senate that would preserve vital wildlife habitat and recreation areas in Eagle and Summit Counties as a companion bill. Drafted through an open, collaborative process, the legislation not only maintains existing recreational uses, it also incorporates community values by accounting for future improvements.

Recently Outdoor Project had the fortunate opportunity to join Conservation Colorado and other members and volunteers of the Continental Divide Coalition to get out on a hike through a portion of the proposed Spraddle Creek Wilderness area and to learn more about the proposed bills. Spraddle Creek sits on the north side of I-70 in Vail, and it includes the western half of Bald Mountain and two creeks that drain the watershed. It encompasses 9,110 acres of land that consists mostly of steep, grassy hillsides and groves of aspens and fir trees. This area offers an important buffer between the urban development in Vail and the Eagles Nest Wilderness to the east. The wilderness proposal helps protect the land from timber extraction, which would effect the migratory and breeding patterns of native elk and deer. It would also allow the Forest Service the flexibility to perform certain restoration projects in order to protect its wilderness quality.

Hiking up toward the large aspen groves. Photo by Justin Michael.

Seeing the land firsthand, we were amazed at the quick transition from a Vail-area mansion corridor to pristine, lush hillside. Within just a few hours of hiking we saw red-tailed hawks, mule deer, bear scat, flourishing wildflowers, and towering old-growth aspen grooves. The sound of the traffic along I-70 faded away once we climbed to 9,000 feet, and we were subsumed by the qualities of wilderness. Anyone who has hiked through the aspens and meadows of Spraddle Creek, which encompasses historic Camp Hale, the World War II training area for the 10th Mountain Division, knows just how special this area truly is.

Please join Conservation Colorado, the International Mountain Bicycling Association, The Wilderness Society, Wilderness Workshop, local communities and countless outdoor industry and tourism businesses supporting this effort to protect these special places. By signing your support, volunteering your time, or donating to the organizations, you can play an important role in leaving a wilderness and outdoor recreation legacy for future generations.

To learn more about the Continental Divide Wilderness proposal, please visit continentaldivide.org. You can view the proposed Bill here.


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