Photo: Hermosa Creek, Wilderness Support Center
On Thursday, April 25, The Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act was introduced by Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO), with Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) as cosponsor; and by Congressman Scott Tipton (R-CO3) in the House. This was a great day for conservation and strategic community involvement. This achievement was made possible in part by the Conservation Alliance grantees, Wilderness Support Center and International Mountain Bicycling Association.
- When passed, the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act will designate a 108,000 acre Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Area; 38,000 acres of this will become the Hermosa Creek Wilderness. The rest of the watershed will have a variety of designated protections (no new roads, no commercial logging, a mineral withdrawal, protection of water quality in Hermosa Creek, etc.). Additionally, the bill prohibits oil and gas development in four areas surrounding Durango: Animas Mountain, Perins Peak, Horse Gulch, and Ridges Basin.
- The legislation will protect important trails in the area, including Hermosa Creek Trail, Coral Draw, Colorado Trail, Jones and Dutch Creek, Elbert Creek, Little Elk Creek, Goulding Creek and the Pinkerton-Flagstaff trails while keeping them open to mountain biking, a major component of the recreation economy in Colorado's La Plata County.
- The legislation is based directly on the work and recommendations of the Hermosa Creek Workgroup, a collaborative, community-based group formed to find agreement between a wide array of stakeholders on how best to manage the Hermosa watershed. The Workgroup met for nearly three years, and reached consensus on recommendations that became the basis for Sen. Bennet's and Rep. Tipton's legislation.
- The designations will protect critical wildlife habitat for such iconic wildlife species as Canadian lynx, elk, and the native Colorado Cutthroat Trout, as well as some of the most significant old-growth Ponderosa Pine stands in the state. A myriad of recreational opportunities will be preserved as well, including hiking, mountains biking, horse packing, fishing, and camping. Significantly, Hermosa Creek is a major contributor of clean water to the City of Durango.
- The legislation is supported by both relevant counties, La Plata and San Juan, the City of Durango, and over 100 local businesses; as well as sportsmen groups, mountain bikers, commercial outfitters, water developers, motorized recreationists, and other stakeholders.
"We are lucky in Colorado to be able to enjoy many of the country's most beautiful landscapes in our backyards," said Bennet in a press release issued by his office. "The Hermosa Creek Watershed represents some of the best Colorado has to offer. This bill will protect this land for our outdoor recreation economy and for future generations of Coloradans and Americans to enjoy. It is the result of a local effort that took into account the varied interests of the community, and that cooperation helped us put together a strong bill with the community's input."
Aaron Clark, IMBA's Public Lands Initiative Director, said, "Protected trail systems in communities all over the country provide a reliable source of revenue for their host communities. The Hermosa Creek Trail is a world-class recreation asset that deserves permanent protection. In Colorado, well-managed recreation assets on public lands act as a powerful multiplier for local economies, attracting visitors and businesses of all types. This bill is a great example of land protection for the 21st century."