More than 600 turn out for Gems meeting in Edwards | SkyHiNews.com

More than 600 turn out for Gems meeting in Edwards

Scott N. Miller
Vail Daily

EDWARDS, Colorado – If anyone needed evidence of the passion locals have for public lands, Thursday’s meeting about the proposed Hidden Gems wilderness expansion plan provided plenty.

More than 600 people, mostly locals, turned out for a meeting about the plan hosted by Rep. Jared Polis, who has been asked to sponsor a bill to create new wilderness in Eagle and Summit counties. A similar meeting earlier this week in Boulder drew about 200 people.

Polis is holding a series of meetings to take public comments on the proposal, which would create more than 250,000 acres of new wilderness. He’s also created a special e-mail address for comments, and spokeswoman Laura Coddingham said the congressman’s office would respond to written questions and comments turned in at the meetings.

The comments – like the crowd – were about evenly split between supporters and opponents.

Supporters generally stuck to the theme that the opportunity to put the government’s most restrictive use on these public lands is a good move for the land, wildlife and future generations of users.

“If we don’t take action now, we’ll lose this opportunity,” Will Dorkin said.

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Bill McEwen of Eagle, who described himself as an “environmentalist redneck,” said he’s been on most of the property proposed for wilderness designation, and said he supports the proposal.

“The areas in this proposal are mostly managed as wilderness now,” said Bill McEwen of Eagle. “No one should feel threatened by this.”

But opponents believe that many trails the current proposal closes to motorized use should be taken out of whatever legislation is eventually proposed.

Kirk Hinderberger of the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association was one of several area residents on a panel of experts Polis asked to answer questions from the audience. He said several trails proposed for closure would essentially eliminate loops for cyclists.

But Squaw Creek resident Bambi Forbes said she frequently rides her horse on some of the trails cyclists are asking to keep open, and some of those trails aren’t good ones for two-wheeled travel. She asked Polis to consider how appropriate some trails are for some uses in whatever bill is eventually proposed.

Other opponents said they’d rather see any new wilderness bill accept the recommendations for wilderness protection the U.S. Forest Service put in its 2002 comprehensive plan for the White River National Forest. That proposal would put wilderness designation on just more than 80,000 acres in Eagle and Summit counties.

“Let the Forest Service do their job,” Dan Lister of Fulford said.

While most opponents said they’d like to see either the Forest Service proposal or alternate, less restrictive designations put on most of the proposed wilderness land, others said they opposed any new wilderness designation at all.

Local resident Sandy Anderson said there’s already plenty of wilderness in local forests, and said “education, not regulation” is a better way of caring for public lands.

Polis, who ran the meeting, mostly deferred to the local experts to answer questions. But he did respond to some direct questions, including whether he has helped bankroll the Hidden Gems effort, which he flatly denied.

As the meeting wound down, Coddingham said Polis’ staff is going to look closely at specific suggestions about specific areas of the proposal.

“We’re going to look at this trail by trail,” Coddingham said. “If something’s not right, it won’t get in.”

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