USFS must remember Hidden Valley’s roots

A Sept. 26 Durango Herald front page story outlined a proposal by Ed Zink to construct a 0.5 mile road and utility corridor across the Hidden Valley archaeological area, a 1,500-acre jewel in the San Juan National Forest, 6 miles from Durango. Contrary to Zink’s assertions, his 30 acres is not landlocked. While it may be Zink’s choice to cross public U.S. Forest Service land, it is not his only alternative. Colorado law provides for gaining access to an owner’s land through an intervening private property or properties.

La Plata County GIS maps plainly show he can accomplish his objectives by improving an existing, older road starting from his CR 203 properties.

I respect Zink’s right to develop his property, and I don’t question his motives. He believes crossing Forest Service land is his cheapest and easiest option. But, remember, a large, broad-based public effort involving many people, the Nature Conservancy, the Trust for Public Lands, the La Plata Open Space Conservancy, Native American representatives, then-Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, and La Plata County Commissioners worked to accomplish the purchase and subsequent transfer of the Hidden Valley property from private ownership (Utah Power & Light) to the Forest Service. And why did it happen? Because Hidden Valley is a unique public treasure, containing a myriad of archaeological sites, including Ester’s Cave, extensive wetlands, elk habitat, hiking trails, a year-round creek and exceptional viewscapes.

This is not a NIMBY issue. Each year, hundreds, if not thousands, of locals photograph, paint, hike, ski, ride horses, mountain bike and picnic at this special place.

In the end, the question is pretty simple. Is part of this treasure going to be given away for the exclusive benefit of one well-connected individual? And would the Zink road set a precedent for future roads to access properties east of Hidden Valley? Or will Hidden Valley be preserved in perpetuity for the benefit of the many – as was intended when it was passed to the Forest Service to be its steward? I hope the Forest Service is up to the job.

John Ritchey

Durango

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