Polis to host Hidden Gems forum at CMC-Breckenridge Friday | SkyHiNews.com

Polis to host Hidden Gems forum at CMC-Breckenridge Friday

Robert Allen
summit daily news

SUMMIT COUNTY – U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo) plans to host a community forum Friday at Colorado Mountain College in Breckenridge regarding the Hidden Gems wilderness proposal.

The legislation would expand wilderness areas in Summit County’s federal forest land by about 43,000 acres. These areas do not allow new mining, gas or oil drilling, logging, motorized travel, mountain bikes or hang gliders.

The Hidden Gems campaign on Wednesday announced cooperation with the Summit Fat Tire Society toward using a special designation for areas of existing and future mountain bike-trail development.

Kurt Kunkle, Summit County Hidden Gems coordinator, said the “companion” areas for mountain bikes are the same as those decided upon for wildfire mitigation.

“It wasn’t a little chunk. It was a big move, but we felt it was the right thing to do to ensure community protection,” he said.

The companion areas include Ten Mile, Hoosier Ridge and possibly some areas farther north. The latest maps are available at http://www.whiteriverwild.org.

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Polis is to begin Friday at noon with some remarks before introducing panelists from such organizations as the Hidden Gems campaign, U.S. Forest Service, biking groups and more, said Polis spokeswoman Lara Cottingham.

“The event last night in Boulder was pretty big,” she said Wednesday, adding that especially large crowds are expected at the mountain forums – which also include Eagle County, where about 200,000 wilderness acres are proposed.

People who attend Friday will be encouraged to fill out cards that include questions to be drawn at random for Polis.

The Hidden Gems and Summit Fat Tire people aim to present their conclusions on their companion areas to the congressman. The collaboration between the two organizations was supported by the Town of Breckenridge and Summit County government, among others, according to a press release.

“Not to be overlooked is the fact that the dialogue between mountain bikers and wilderness advocates has at times been difficult,” Mike McCormack of Summit Fat Tire Society said in the press release.

The two groups are waiting for feedback from Silverthorne and Dillon before proposing lands near Ptarmigan A, Porcupine Gulch, Acorn Creek and Ute Pass as further companion areas.

The Fat Tire Society promotes trail riding in and around Summit County; its activities include trail maintenance and development, education and coordinating rides.

Opposition manifests through petition

Motorized off-road vehicle users continue to oppose Hidden Gems. In addition, an online petition has amassed 29 signatures against the wilderness proposal for Hoosier and Ten Mile areas because of wildfire concerns.

Trish Holcroft of Blue River, who started the petition at http://bit.ly/bCTwu1, said the companion areas for wildfire mitigation aren’t enough.

“My concern is my neighborhood,” she said, adding that a “half-mile wildland urban interface” doesn’t offer enough protection.

She said the proposal is “by a group that doesn’t even live here and will tie the hands of experts and the forest service.”

The Summit County Wildfire Council – comprised of fire departments and local governments across the county – has OK’d the Hidden Gems proposal, but Holcroft said that’s no letter of support.

She said her concerns are unrelated to those of Rich Holcroft, president of High Country Snowmobile Club, who has vocally opposed Hidden Gems because of its impact on snowmobile access.

“This is strictly a safety issue,” she said.

Kunkle, with the Hidden Gems campaign, said his group “spent a lot of time talking with experts” at the wildfire council and they “all took a hard look at the proposal and determined lands that probably shouldn’t be in the wilderness for wildfire concerns.”

The concerns include impacts to watersheds and creation of firebreaks, among others, he said.

Summit County Off-Road Riders continue to oppose the proposal, which doesn’t offer them or snowmobilers any of the flexibility made available to mountain bikers.

“I haven’t seen any science behind why we need additional land protection,” said SCORR member Mary Patterson. “It’s been well-managed, and if something is well-managed, then I believe you should leave it alone.”

Patterson said her business, JnJ Motorsports in Farmer’s Korner, sells all-terrain vehicles to people who want their disabled family members to enjoy the forest.

Both Holcrofts and Patterson are listed under the online petition’s signatures.

Kunkle said there’s “pretty strong overlap” among Hidden Gems opponents.

“I think the bottom line is there area some people out there who don’t want wilderness,” he said. “And they’re looking for reasons to argue against the proposal, and the fire issue is a hot-button issue in Summit County and that’s why we’re bringing that up.”

He said he encourages people on both sides of the issue to attend Friday’s forum.

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