Gilpin County News : The future of our local wilderness

Roger Baker, Gilpin County Manager. The proposed recreational shooting site along West Magnolia Road in Boulder County has raised concerns about mountain recreation activities, but as the Gilpin County Commissioners can confirm, such conflicts are neither uncommon nor easily solved.

In fact, the Commissioners are spending a lot of time this month on activities that relate in whole or in part to how our residents and visitors can and should use our precious forest resources.

As some folks are reading this, on Thursday morning, August 6, the Commissioners are taking another tour over (or at least up to the top of) Rollins Pass.

The Pass is a long-time source of controversy, as the original legislation that created the James Peak Wilderness Area also mandated that the old road over Rollins Pass be opened, and to two-wheel drive vehicles!

This is a pretty typical backcountry conflict, with some folks wanting the road to remain closed to maintain the pristine high mountain tundra, and others wanting increased (or at least easier) access to those  beautiful areas for those who might not be able (or willing) to hike into them.

In one form or another this tension—between restricted access and increased use—lies at the heart of many such conflicts in our mountain home. Throw in the mix of private and public landownership that characterizes the Front Range foothills, and things become more complicated still.

That’s why it’s great to see another August event, the formal dedication of the South Boulder Creek Conservation Project, on August 18.

Both the kickoff and the project itself are sponsored by the Conservation Fund, a national non-profit that has raised millions of dollars to secure—either through conservation easements or outright purchase—millions of acres of wilderness in all 50 states.

The South Boulder Creek Conservation Project mostly involved putting property owned by the Toll family on the north side of the creek under conservation easements that will prevent development and still allow for recreational uses.

But just as it’s unusual to have a wilderness area like James Peak astride a two-lane road, the Toll property is transected by both a well-used County road and the Union Pacific railroad tracks.

That’s not to say that there isn’t much that is worth preserving, but the presence of such signs of civilization should warn us that the conflicts over use restrictions will be even more pronounced in these areas than might be expected in more remote locations.

Gilpin County certainly hopes, for example, that the Project will allow fishing access to Boulder Creek, either on the former Toll property or on the adjacent US Forest Service lands.

And just a little farther up Tolland Road are the remaining buildings from the East Portal work camp, that grew up to support the construction of the Moffat Tunnel in the 1920s. Preservationists would probably like to see the buildings reconstructed as historical artifacts, naturalists would probably rather have them fall into dust, but a more useful application would probably be to turn them into restroom areas for the thousands of Coloradans who use the East Portal trailhead every year.

And while our small size, rich history and proximity to the Front Range create some unique challenges, most of these problems aren’t unique, so the Commissioners will also, in August, visit with their colleagues from other mountain counties during the Colorado Counties, Inc., district meetings later that same week in Empire.

The mountains and forests have shaped our history, and still today make Gilpin County such a special place to live. But their shared use with the 2 million people along the Front Range (to say nothing of the hordes of visitors that come every summer) does present some very real challenges as well.

The Commissioners are committed to finding solutions to those challenges, and that’s why they’re spending time at these mountain events before the snow starts to fly.

Which might not be too long…