The [Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign] hopes to set aside about 89,000 acres of public land in Gunnison County as designated wilderness. Five of the seven areas being considered would be additions onto established wilderness areas, and two remaining parcels would stand alone. One of the proposed areas, Whetstone, is right outside of Crested Butte and the most contentious part of the proposal for local hikers, bikers and snowmobilers.
Before the commissioners consider a request to draft a letter in support of the proposal, they wanted to hear from all sides of the debate, and they got their wish. People from all sides of the issue packed the commissioner’s meeting room and filled a two-hour timeslot with many disparate points of view…
Right now, nearly 22.6 percent, or 370,000 acres, of Gunnison County’s total 1,618,000 acres of public land is designated as wilderness. The Hidden Gems proposal would increase that by 5.5 percent. The additional wilderness areas being proposed would be added in Gallo Hill, McClure Pass and Treasure Mountain, along with Powderhorn and West Elk additions. The two largest portions of the proposal are more than 54,000 acres in Clear Fork and almost 17,000 acres on Whetstone.
The workgroup steering committee formed in 2007 to involve anyone interested in protecting natural resources while allowing water-consuming development to continue. The committee membership includes water-use planners, environmentalists and government and tribal representatives. Hermosa Creek is the first of five similar studies to be conducted with the same goal in mind. “Participants decided that the Hermosa Creek watershed is a special pla ce and said they want to work together to protect outstanding water quality,” Marsha Porter-Norton, who coordinated 21 months of workgroup meetings, said Wednesday. “They rallied around a common goal to find solutions to satisfy as many interests as possible.”
More Hermosa Creek watershed coverage here and here.
As Durangoans know, El Niño can be a fickle character. The phenomenon characterized by a warming in the equatorial Pacific Ocean does influence weather patterns in the Southwest United States. However, El Niño does not always show up and bless the Four Corners with abundant moisture. That said, the winter of 2009-10 is turning out to be a benchmark year for El Niño, according to Klaus Wolter, an atmospheric scientist with the University of Colorado at Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Last week’s storm – which pounded Durango for five days and brought more than 3 feet of snow to downtown – was typical of the weather phenomenon.
“El Niño tends to favor the southwest part of our state with additional moisture,” Wolter said. “Not every El Niño delivers, but last week’s storm was classic El Niño.”
As of January 25, the snow-water equivalent totals for the Gunnison River Basin were at 97 percent of average, according to data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The Gunnison Basin stretches over 8,000 square miles of western Colorado, extending from the Continental Divide to the confluence of the Gunnison and Colorado Rivers near Grand Junction. The 97 percent total puts Gunnison ahead of most basins in the state, with the exception of the Upper Rio Grande (108 percent) and the combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River basins (104 percent). Those numbers sound pretty good, considering the seemingly dry December and early January that preceded last week’s storms. According to Frank Kugel, general manager for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, “We got a great shot in the arm with these recent storms. As of one week ago, we were at 76 percent of normal. We went from 76 percent to 97 percent in one week.”
Kugel also said water storage levels are doing well, with Blue Mesa at 68 percent of capacity, which is on target for this time of year. “Blue Mesa hits peak storage in June or July, and we try to get as close to full as possible by that time,” Kugel added. He noted it’s tough to forecast future water availability for the Gunnison Basin this early in the winter season.
As of Friday morning, the South Platte River Basin, which includes the Poudre River, had a snowpack 13 percent below normal. Other parts of Northern Colorado were the same: The North Platte Basin was 15 percent below normal, the Colorado River Basin 20 percent below normal and the Yampa River Basin 18 percent below normal.
The meeting will be hosted by Riverbend Engineering and the Town of Pagosa Springs, and will be held in the south conference room of the Ross Aragόn Community Center Thursday, January 28 at 5:30pm. Construction of at least one of the proposed features is tentatively slated for this spring, with the possibility of an additional feature being constructed in the fall.