Southwest Colorado is home to a remarkable set of forested valleys and crystal-clear streams known by Coloradans in this area as Hermosa Creek. Long treasured by the residents of the Animas Valley, this area is renowned for its beauty, magnificent vistas, wildlife and the economic, job-creating activity the landscape generates for local communities.
The vast 107,000-acre Hermosa Creek watershed is so diverse that it offers something for almost every type of mountain enthusiast. It contains soaring alpine peaks and some of the most pristine and wildest ponderosa pine and aspen forests in all of Colorado. Sportsmen make the trek from across the country to enjoy mountain fishing for native cutthroat trout and unparalleled backcountry elk hunting. The system of trails that cross the Hermosa Creek area offers some of the states finest singletrack mountain biking and off-road vehicle riding.
While all these activities are valid and important uses of the watershed landscape, there have, at times, been conflicts between assorted users.
In the past, these conflicts have led to differing opinions about how this area should be managed by the U.S. Forest Service. To address this ongoing issue, a group of local stakeholders known as the Hermosa Creek Workgroup came together in 2008 to discuss future management of this unique area. The group includes local water officials, conservationists, sportsmen, mountain bikers, off-road-vehicle users, outfitters, property owners, grazing permit holders and other interested citizens.
After 22 months of meetings and negotiations, a consensus set of legislative recommendations emerged from the group in a formal report last year. Those recommendations have now been endorsed by the county commissioners of San Juan and La Plata counties. Both boards support moving forward with consensus legislation to govern and protect this area.
The recommendations of the workgroup include provisions to protect most of the watershed from major new disturbances or development and a new wilderness area for about 35 percent of the watershed. As proposed by the workgroup, no major changes would occur in the current management of the area, and all major uses would be maintained, including mountain biking, motorized recreation and future opportunities for sustainable resource development, including the use of the Hermosa Creek areas water resources.
The communities of Southwest Colorado deserve great praise for their tireless work on this proposal. They came to the table with different views but were united by a shared goal: to protect and preserve this area for the enjoyment of generations to come. Over a period of nearly two years, they rolled up their sleeves and ultimately came to consensus something thats been all too elusive in Washington these days. To continue their progress, I will partner with the workgroup and the greater Southwest Colorado community to turn their recommendations into a bill that brings their ideas to life.
The draft bill I am proposing would aim to keep the area largely as it is now, one of immense beauty treasured by all types of users and an important driver of the areas tourism-based economy. But it is absolutely critical that members of the local community have a chance to weigh in.
In the coming months, I will ask for input from the community that will help improve the workgroups proposed legislative recommendations and ensure they reflect the needs and concerns of Coloradans in the area.
I am proud to continue the work that this community has started, and I will fight to see that their recommendations are ultimately enacted into law.
I look forward to a productive dialogue with the community about the final details of this unique proposal.
In the end, I hope that this process will protect some of the Southwest Colorados most magnificent landscapes, while sustaining a source of economic growth and job creation in the community for generations to come.
Michael Bennet, a Democrat, represents Colorado in the United States Senate. Reach his Durango office at 259-1710.