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Wilderness Wanderings: What are Sarvis and the ‘boogie bears’?

Bob Korch
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
In the early 20th century, Sarvis Timber Co. moved logs via a log flume in what now is the Sarvis Creek Wilderness Area. (Photo courtesy of Tread of Pioneers Museum)

The news of the proposed expansion of Sarvis Creek Wilderness brings with it two questions: What is Sarvis Creek Wilderness, and why do we have wilderness?

To answer the first question, Sarvis is southeast of Steamboat Springs with the upper end reached via Rabbit Ears Pass. The lower end is accessed via Routt County Road 16 near Stagecoach.

Sarvis was legally designated as wilderness by President Bill Clinton in 1993.



That was after a bit of negotiating to remove 2,000 of its originally proposed 46,556 acres so there would be a buffer with the previously proposed Catamount Ski Area, should it ever come into being.

The proposed extension would return part of this northeast corner that overlooks Lake Catamount.

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Recorded history for the area now within the wilderness extends back more than a century when there was a significant logging operation there.

Sarvis Timber Co. set up shop roughly around 1915 to 1918, according to curator Katie Adams from the Tread of Pioneers Museum.

The company had acquired 2,200 acres of timber land and constructed a small portable mill and nearly 6 miles of flume.

The trees were primarily cut in the fall and winter, with the logs properly sized for travel within the flume the following spring.

Upon reaching the lower end of the flume at Sarvis Creek, the logs were floated downstream and then into the Yampa River.

It took several weeks during May for all the logs to complete their journey as a massive flotilla jammed up the Bear — now called Yampa — River on their way to a large sawmill at the south end of Steamboat Springs.

More recently, in 1918, more than 20,000 acres in and near the upper end of Sarvis was burned by the Silver Creek Fire.

The drive to and a hike on the upper end of Sarvis Creek Trail reveals the fire’s aftermath, including an impressive display of purple fireweed and other wildflowers if one were to visit there soon.

The question “What is wilderness?” is a little harder to answer because land and wilderness means so many different things to us. Ask 10 people what it is, and you’ll get almost as many answers.

To some, including the dictionary, wilderness is an area of “uninhabited or uncultivated land.” They’ll point toward the forest as an example of wilderness.

A young child might point at the forest with apprehension and say “that’s where boogie bears are.”

Another response we’ve heard is that it’s an area where we can do anything we want.

But there’s also a legal definition that applies to areas of land, such as the Sarvis, Flat Tops and Mount Zirkel wilderness areas.

Per the Wilderness Act, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964:

“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

Wilderness advocates further describe wilderness “wherein the landscape remains free from the human intent to alter, control or manipulate its components and ecological and evolutionary processes.”

Rich Levy, one of the organizers of the effort to expand Sarvis, describes the area as “untrammeled” and “has a lot of Wilderness character,” which both fit the legal definition of wilderness.

However you describe “wilderness,” one thing most of us agree on here in the Yampa Valley is our desire, need and value of open space. And there needs to be a safe place for the boogie bears to hang out.

Bob Korch is trail crew leader with Friends of Wilderness, which assists the U.S. Forest Service in maintaining trails and educating the public about the Mount Zirkel, Sarvis Creek and Flat Tops wilderness areas. For more information, visit FriendsOfWilderness.com.


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