Redstone Land outside of Carbondale and Redstone that’s being eyed for a wilderness designation did its best to impress a contingent of elected officials, land managers and others with its wildness Wednesday.
A pair of screeching red-tailed hawks sailed above an aspen grove, a herd of elk caught the sharper eyes in the group and a young bear scampered up a slope as more than a dozen observers on horses and mules explored what’s been dubbed the Assignation Ridge area in U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette’s Colorado Wilderness Act. Mother Nature added a too-close-for-comfort lightning strike to the mix, leaving riders and mounts jumpy and cutting short the planned visit after a pause to wait out the storm.
The unexpected is part of the wilderness experience, reasoned DeGette, visiting an area she is leaning toward putting forward as part of an omnibus public lands bill in Congress. The Assignation Ridge/Thompson Creek area encompasses some 25,000 acres in a strip on the west side of Highway 133 between Carbondale and Redstone.
“It’s spectacular,” she said after the group dismounted on a windswept knoll dotted with aspens, sagebrush and blooming lupins and skyrocket, to take in sweeping views of Lake Ridge, Huntsman Ridge, Chair Mountain and the southern extension of Assignation Ridge. “This is obviously wilderness as the Wilderness Act would define it.”
The congresswoman was joined by members of her staff, representatives of the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, Pitkin County Commissioners Jack Hatfield and George Newman, Garfield County Commissioner Trési Houpt, Carbondale-area rancher Marj Perry and a crew organized by Avalanche Outfitters.
The proposed Assignation Ridge Wilderness is a combination of national forest and BLM land in Garfield and Pitkin counties. Also in Pitkin County, DeGette has proposed a noncontroversial addition to the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area — roughly 330 acres on the eastern slope of Eagle Mountain — but the Assignation Ridge area received most of her attention on a swing through the Roaring Fork Valley this week.
Her proposal encompasses the rock fins of the Thompson Creek area that are popular with climbers, as well as the Braderich Creek Trail outside of Redstone, where Wednesday’s party began its ride. Mountain bikers use the trail, one of several routes that would be off-limits to bikers or motorized users if the area becomes wilderness.
DeGette met with climbers, who want the continued ability to use power drills (a no-no in wilderness) to replace bolts, mountain bikers who want continued access to Braderich Creek and area ranchers who want assurance that they can continue to maintain grazing areas with the use of motorized or mechanical equipment, if necessary. Such uses, including mountain biking, aren’t permitted in wilderness areas.
DeGette is contemplating excluding Braderich Creek from within the wilderness boundary. Whether some exemption can be made for climbers with power tools is less clear, she said.