EcoFlight offers bird’s eye view of public lands | SteamboatToday.com

EcoFlight offers bird’s eye view of public lands

From left, EcoFlight participants Kent Vertrees, Sarah Jones, Shannon Lukens, Eugene Buchanan and Peter Hall.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — While some people planned to take to the streets for Friday’s "Stand for Our Land" rally downtown, coinciding with U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's speech at The Steamboat Institutes’s Freedom Conference, others took to the skies.

On Thursday, EcoFlight, an Aspen-based nonprofit providing aviation support to various conservation organizations, hosted two flights for those concerned with current public lands policies. The first, taking off from Bob Adams Airport in Steamboat Springs at 8 a.m., focused on drought and wildfire conditions; the second, at 9 a.m., provided a bird's-eye commentary on local water issues.

While the first flyover ventured toward the Flat Tops Wilderness Area and Silver Creek Fire atop Rabbit Ears pass, the second headed north toward the headwaters of the Elk River. In general as the plane flew north, public lands existed to the right and private to the left, comprised of the ranches of the upper Elk River Valley — many of which have portions preserved through conservation easements.

"But on all our flights we advise people not to look left or right but at the land overall below," said pilot and EcoFlight President Bruce Gordon. "That's how you get the big picture."

This year's low water conditions were markedly different than previous years, when flight participant and Friends of the Yampa Board President Kent Vertrees had seen the river nearly bank-full from above at this time of year.

After crossing Mad Creek and Big Creek, the flight passed the old volcano of Round Mountain before heading east over the South Fork of the Elk River and over the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area.

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"Without public lands, we wouldn't have the Continental Divide Trail," added Vertrees, pointing out the popular trail in the wilderness area. "If it wasn't for public lands, I wouldn’t have my job or a place to teach or worship."

High above the blowdown areas, beetle kill and Zirkel Circle hiking trail, the flight then veered south over The Dome, the headwaters of Mad Creek and Soda Mountain before traversing Steamboat Ski Area and turning back over Walton Creek toward home.

For Gordon, such mixing of politics and airplanes was all part of promoting the preservation movement.

"What we really don’t like is that the current administration is cutting public input from the process," he said. "It's the same here as it is everywhere."