Celebrating wilderness status for Rocky Mountain National Park

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It’s been a long time coming — basically since Richard Nixon prowled the Oval Office — but many of Colorado’s current congressional delegation, Wayne Allard and Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar were howling with the park staff yesterday to celebrate the inclusion of wilderness status yesterday, according to a report from Douglas Crowl writing for the Fort Collins Coloradoan: Loveland Connection. From the article:

Federal laws mandated staff to manage the park as a wilderness area since it was first proposed in 1974. The wilderness designation for the park, which sees 3 million visitors each year, adds one final layer of land protection ensuring that no legislative action can reverse management of the area. Motorized equipment, logging, mining, development and other activities are indefinitely outlawed in wilderness areas. “It’s been a 35-year journey to get that,” RMNP Superintendent Vaughn Baker said before the ceremony. “We see it as a completion of that journey and now it clearly states that that’s how the backcountry should be managed.”

The journey to this point wasn’t smooth, as several legislators throughout the years tried to push bills through the U.S. Congress to no avail. The latest effort came when Salazar and Udall, both Democrats, sponsored a bill beginning in 2006 to enact the wilderness nomination for the park. That legislation hit a road block when Allard and former Rep. Marilyn Musgrave introduced competing legislation.

A split among the lawmakers centered on the liability of the Water Supply and Storage Company, which owns the Grand River Ditch running through park. The ditch breached in 2003 and resulted in a $9 million settlement last year from the company to pay the park for resource damages. The politicians worked out their differences and met publicly in the park in May 2007 to agree on new legislation, the basis of which ended up in the bill Obama signed last month, Baker said.

More coverage from the Greeley Tribune (Rebecca Boyle):

The designation means nearly 250,000 acres within the park will be permanently protected from human impacts. President Richard Nixon first suggested doing it in 1974. The bill also protects the Grand Ditch, which irrigates thousands of acres of farmland in eastern Colorado. Disagreements over that delivery system almost ditched the bill earlier this year, however, while threatening a two-year-old bipartisan hug-fest that was itself the result of months of wrangling. Two versions of a Rocky wilderness bill were introduced in January; after a series of maneuvers, the bill that emerged satisfied water users and conservationists alike.

Udall, an accomplished mountaineer, recalled hiking along the Continental Divide some time ago and stopping to look east, then turning to look west. He wasn’t thinking about Western Slope interests versus Front Range interests; he wasn’t even thinking about Colorado interests versus national interests, he said. That wasn’t what he saw. “I just saw this great country we call the United States of America,” he said. “This park, I think, helps us in this process to understand how we breach the divide, when we remind ourselves that we all have a common interest and a common spirit.”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

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