Hermosa watershed plan a ‘beautiful’ thing

There is no question as to why the name Hermosa was given to the stream and landscape just north of Durango.

Whether you are looking north up the Animas Valley toward the red cliffs dotted with green ponderosa pines, along the trail in the narrows of the middle section where massive old-growth ponderosas mix with aspen, or in the meadows of the upper basin, beauty is a dominant reality.

The Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act, being introduced by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet with Sen. Mark Udall as co-sponsor and, hopefully, with Rep. Scott Tipton, is the result of our communities’ desires to find creative solutions that recognize the many important roles Hermosa Creek plays in our lives.

Last fall, my brother and some friends came to mountain bike in Hermosa Creek. After five days, they left exhausted and truly impressed – the reputation of Hermosa Creek as a classic mountain-biking area confirmed.

For hunters, the watershed is equally well known. Whether you want a traditional backcountry experience and go to the rugged western slopes, or are more interested in having a comfortable camp in the meadow and striking out on day hunts, the area is home to plenty of elk and deer.

For the fishing crowd, or those who are looking to practice the craft of hooking a cutthroat trout in a small stream after hours spent trying, Hermosa Creek is perfect.

The main trail, which runs along the length of the creek, used to be a source of conflict. Hikers would be scared by the silent bikers suddenly zooming past, the horse riders by the trail-bike motorcyclists. It now is an example of how the “share-the-trail” effort has largely succeeded, with the courteous outweighing the obnoxious.

From jeepers going over Bolam Pass, backcountry skiers above Hotel Draw, to the birders and botanists marveling at the diversity afforded by the watershed, Hermosa Creek reflects the diversity of Southwest Coloradans’ interests.

The same can be said of the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act. The act is unique in numerous ways. It is unique in tackling a whole watershed, rather than focusing only on those parts that are appropriate for a single use. It is unique in being the result of a process in which the myriad interests came together on their own and crafted a plan that reflected the values of all those interests. It is a piece of legislation that reflects a beautiful community process to recognize and protect a beautiful landscape.

The act covers the whole 107,000 acres of the San Juan National Forest in the watershed. Of that, 68,000 acres will be in a Special Management Area in which all the currently motorized and mountain-bike trails are located, all of which remain open to current uses. Another 37,000 acres, the rugged western slopes, will be designated as wilderness, preserving this wild land.

It is lamentably rare for mining interests, motorcyclists, mountain bikers, hunters, backcountry outfitters, hikers and the agricultural community to all come together to find a solution that they can all agree on. This act is the result of just that.

Hermosa, indeed, means beautiful.

dan@sanjuancitizens.org. Dan Randolph is executive director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.

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