Our View: Emerald's future is in our hands

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Editorial Board, June 2009 to September 2009

  • Suzanne Schlicht, general manager
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Mike Lawrence, city editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • Grant Fenton, community representative
  • Paul Strong, community representative

Contact the editorial board at (970) 871-4221 or editor@steamboatpilot.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.

We applaud last week's action by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to preserve a 4,139-acre Emerald Mountain parcel from energy and mineral development for the next 20 years.

Salazar's signature put a capstone on a conservation effort that stretches back to 1993, when city committees began discussing the idea of public recreation and trails on Emerald Mountain to complement the adjacent Howelsen Hill. The effort culminated in the February 2007 completion of a massive land swap, in which the Bureau of Land Management gave the Colorado State Land Board more than 15,400 acres of federal land - on 123 isolated parcels scattered throughout Routt County - in exchange for the consolidated Emerald Mountain parcel.

Although Salazar's action might seem like a formality, the significance of preserving Emerald Mountain from mineral lease applications should not be overlooked.

"That only happens with a secretary order or an act of Congress," said John Husband, field manager for the BLM's Little Snake Field Office in Craig. "Short of that, public lands are available for mineral entry."

Hopefully, Salazar's action will spur a renewed effort by local citizens to volunteer their time and energy toward future management of Emerald Mountain, which is an incredible public asset.

But the BLM can only do so much.

The Little Snake Field Office oversees a total of about 1.3 million acres of federal land in Moffat, Routt and Rio Blanco counties. Husband said that although the BLM has funding this year for Emerald Mountain projects including completion of the Ridge Trail, their resources are limited.

"Certainly, BLM is going to be managing the (Emerald) area for public benefit and access, and we're going to continue to work on the area for adequate signing and trails : our funding only goes so far," he said Tuesday. "We only have so many employees."

The Steamboat community already has shown a strong willingness to step forward for Emerald Mountain.

The Emerald Mountain Partnership, a group of concerned citizens and local government officials, spearheaded work that resulted in the land swap. And although that group has grown dormant since the deal was completed, its nonprofit status still is valid.

Gina Robison, recreation planner at the BLM Little Snake office, credited the Routt County Riders biking club for helping with trail planning. Robison added that the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps is doing trail work on Emerald.

Robison said if all those interested groups collaborated, the result would be an "astronomical" benefit for the BLM.

"We're definitely looking for groups to get together and manage (the Emerald Mountain parcel) for us, so to speak," Robison said. "It is public land."

Husband and Robison said that a community partnership could hold fundraisers, for example, that could help pay for trail work and development on Emerald.

"Anything that we do out there requires funding," Robison said, noting that the federal government cannot hold such fundraisers.

A renewed community partnership also would enable different users of Emerald Mountain and surrounding landowners to have an impact on the area's management - "If you don't raise your voice, you're not going to get heard," Robison noted.

Those interested in helping shape Emerald's future can contact Robison at 826-5083 or gina_robison@blm.gov.

The hard work of preserving the land is completed. But much work remains to ensure and make the most of Emerald Mountain's future.

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