Effort continues to add 7,200 acres to Sarvis Creek Wilderness
Effort requires federal legislation, and is likely stuck behind Sen. Bennet's CORE Act for now
A proposal to expand the Sarvis Creek Wilderness Area by 7,200 acres is continuing to move forward, but likely is still years away from becoming a reality.
Initial proposals for the Sarvis Creek Wilderness Area in the 1980s included the now-proposed expansion, but the northwest corner was carved out as it was within the boundaries of the potential Catamount Ski Area.
But, like the idea of the Winter Olympics coming to Steamboat, the prospects of building a ski area there are gone. Now, some are continuing a push for the area to be designated wilderness — the highest level of protection for federal land.
Ben Beall, a leader in the effort to oppose Catamount Ski Area in the 90s and a member of the current committee pushing to expand the area, said he feels adding this area back would be a continuation of the previous effort.
“Picture what our community would have been like if Lake Catamount Ski Area had been approved,” Beall said Tuesday, June 28, to the Routt County Commissioners. “Part of this process that I see for Routt County is to get the Sarvis Creek Wilderness Area back to where it was originally proposed.”
Jim Hicks with the Trappers Lake Group of Sierra Club said they were seeking a letter of support from commissioners for the effort, which will help get support for the federal legislation needed to designate new or expand wilderness areas. While commissioners said they likely would provide the letter, they wanted to allow time to hear more feedback on the proposal to the community.
“If we don’t hear anything coming back, I would be happy to support a letter of support,” said Commissioner Tim Corrigan.
“Probably, there are not folks that have a lot of issue with this, but it’s helpful for us to know what opposition is out there, if any,” Commissioner Beth Melton said.
Beall said they were seeking letters of support from a lot of different groups, not just the county. He characterized the effort as still “just getting started.”
To become designated wilderness, one of Colorado’s federal legislators needs to sponsor and pass a bill through both houses of congress — no small task. Even when the current footprint of the Sarvis wilderness was approved in 1993, it had already been in the works for a decade.
“Somebody at the federal level has to grab this,” Beall said.
Hicks said they have been in contact with Routt County’s new House Rep. Joe Neguse, who told Hicks at a May event in Routt County that he is “all for it.” Beall said they have talked with Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet as well, and would like to get Sen. John Hickenlooper on board too.
Corrigan said based on his conversations with staff in Sen. Bennet’s office, this proposal isn’t a priority until the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act passed. Bennet, Hickenlooper and Neguse all sponsor that legislation which would protect another 73,000 acres of wilderness, but doesn’t include the Sarvis expansion.
“Until the CORE Act gets over the finish line, there’s not a lot of appetite to look at new areas for wilderness designation,” Corrigan said. “This is a long-term effort.”
“My sense is there would be a lot of support for this, and certainly it would dovetail nicely with (President Joe) Biden’s 30-30 plan,” Corrigan continued, referencing the Biden Administrations effort to protect 30% of the country’s land and waters by 2030.
Beall and Hicks said they hope to build enough support for the expansion that the politicians decide to move on legislation sooner, though he knows it is still a slow process.
“I worked on the citizens against Lake Catamount (Ski Area), so I see this as a continuation of that,” Beall said. “It’s not easy these things. But that’s what we do, that’s what the community has to do is stay with things.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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