Proposal would expand Sarvis Creek Wilderness Area by 7K acres |

Proposal would expand Sarvis Creek Wilderness Area by 7K acres

The land was originally excluded from the wilderness area because it was part of the proposed Catamount Ski Area

A proposal from the Trappers Lake Group of the Sierra Club would add 7,200 acres to the Sarvis Creek Wilderness Area. (Photo by Dylan Anderson)

When the Sarvis Creek Wilderness Area was first proposed in the 1980s, it was larger than what was eventually declared wilderness in 1993.

The northwest portion of the initial proposal was removed after developers of the Catamount Ski Area at the time said it was within the potential ski area’s boundary. Nearly 30 years later, the prospect of building a new ski area there is gone, and some are starting a decade-long push to permanently protect the land.

The area of expansion is the Green Creek drainage south of Rabbit Ears Pass and north of the current wildlife area. It is entirely within national forest land and is currently designated for recreational use in the forest plan.

The Trappers Lake Group of the Sierra Club is proposing an extension of the wilderness area to its original footprint, giving more than 7,200 acres of forest land wilderness protection — the highest level of protection for federal land.

Sarvis Creek Wilderness is one of 42 different wilderness areas in Colorado and three that are easily accessed from Steamboat Springs. There are around 110 million acres of designated wilderness in the U.S., roughly equivalent to 5% of land in the country.

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Wilderness designations restrict the use of the area but allow most lawful activity provided it does not harm the wilderness, and it does not require a vehicle. Rich Levy, chair of the Trappers Lake Group, said while the land in the proposal is wild and generally road-less already, without the wilderness protection, it wouldn’t be that difficult to change.

“The (U.S.) Forest Service could change their plans and build roads in there. They could log it; they could do a lot of different things. All it takes is a little tweaking of the forest plan,” Levy said. “Wilderness is the only permanent protection for these lands.”

The Trappers Lake Group of the Sierra Club is proposes the Sarvis Creek Wildlife Area should be extended to include land once considered for the Catamount Ski Area.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Curt Rogers’ name.

To become wilderness, one of Colorado’s federal legislators would need to sponsor a bill that is passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president. Unsurprisingly, that can take some time, Levy said.

The original proposal for Sarvis Creek Wilderness started in 1983 and was not passed until a decade later. This proposal could take that long as well, as Levy said it is not the first priority when it comes to wilderness bills in the state.

The Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act is sponsored by both of Colorado’s senators, Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, in addition to Rep. Joe Neguse. If passed, the bill would add another 73,000 acres of wilderness in Colorado.

But it is this bill that has been in the works for years that will likely stall the process of designating the area near Sarvis as wilderness, Levy said.

“That has been a huge push, and that is where our delegation is focused on,” Levy said. “We have talked to them, and until that bill gets settled — hopefully passed — there’s really no space for this discussion.”

While in theory this proposal could be added to that bill, Levy said that could jeopardize the progress the bill has already made.

There are other areas in Routt County that Levy said could be designated wilderness as well, but this is the most obvious because it was part of the original proposal. The land has also already been studied to ensure it contains the qualities needed for wilderness like a lack of any roads or significant development and the presence of wildlife.

“In a way, you could say it has a potential to be fast-tracked compared to a lot of other wilderness legislation,” Levy said.

Sometimes, designating land wilderness can lead to more people using it, but Levy said he believes it is an overall win-win, because the land is protected and available for use by the public.

“Wilderness areas are meant to be nature in control rather than man in control,” said Curt Rogers, president of Friends of the Wilderness. “Man is welcome as a visitor to those areas but not as a strong influence.”

Rogers said this is different than regular forest land or national parks because there will not be developed campgrounds or new trails added to the land. Groups like Friend of Wilderness are there to help maintain existing trails, but even this is limited to clearing fallen down trees off trails.

“The only man-made structures you would see would be structures that had been put there prior to it becoming wilderness,” Rogers said.

Friends of Wilderness has not taken a position on the proposed extension, Rogers said, but the board may decide to eventually weigh in.

“I think they’re important just to preserve a unique aspect of our environment and have places to go where you can enjoy solitude and get away from the influences of man,” Rogers said of wilderness areas.

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