Conservation Colorado: Wilderness is an enduring resource
In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Wilderness Act, making it the policy of the United States to preserve worthy undeveloped public lands for the benefit of people to recreate, for wildlife and to assure that America’s rapid growth did not gobble up every acre of land for human development.
It’s one of America’s best ideas. We have been able to protect some of the most beautiful and pristine public lands for ourselves and for future generations. In Colorado, we’ve been fortunate and have set aside some of our most iconic places: the Flat Tops, the Maroon Bells, the Great Sand Dunes and the Gunnison Gorge. All are designated wilderness and just a sampling of the 43 separate wilderness areas in our stunning and diverse state.
An interesting and curious fact is that one of the pens used by President Johnson to sign the Wilderness Act now sits in Craig at the Museum of Northwest Colorado. This artifact is fitting, as Craig sits only 40 miles, as the raven flies, from Trappers Lake in the Flat Tops, what some call the Cradle of Wilderness. In the early 1900s, a young landscape architect named Arthur Carhart was sent to Trappers Lake to survey for a potential road and some home sites around the lake. His recommendation, instead, was that the Forest Service should not build the road but instead keep Trappers Lake undeveloped for wilderness recreation. Trappers Lake was protected as a primitive area and became a precursor to what eventually became the Wilderness Act.
The pen is also ironic. It sits in a museum in a county that does not have a single acre of designated wilderness — but is surrounded by many acres of deserving wilderness quality lands. Lands within Dinosaur National Monument recommended for wilderness as well as adjacent Bureau of Land Management Wilderness Study Areas like Diamond Breaks and Cross Mountain have languished for 35 years awaiting official congressional wilderness designation.
Recent worries by Congressman Scott Tipton that the president unilaterally will declare the Vermillion Basin a national monument, reported in this paper, to me seem misplaced. Instead, Rep. Tipton should lead a community dialogue about how we can protect these wild lands, as well as finding the right balance between development and conservation on our public lands. That would be more productive than using the scare tactic of a hostile monument designation. The White House has been clear that it will designate monuments only where there is broad local support, and the 11 Obama-designated monuments all follow that pattern.
Vermillion Basin and the other wilderness-quality lands I mentioned above are treasures of our public lands and areas that I know many residents of Moffat County take great pride in. These places, in their natural state, can be a boon to the local economy, attracting recreationists and sportsmen of every stripe. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, perhaps the pen in Craig can be a symbol for chapters yet to be written in our state’s wilderness legacy.
Scott Braden is a wilderness advocate for Conservation Colorado.