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"Hidden Gems 2.0" – Another Attempt at Wilderness?

March 21, 2011

VAIL, Colo. - The proposal to designate the Hidden Gems Wilderness in the Central Rockies area stalled in Congress late last year, but a campaign pushing its passage is back in full swing. Supporters are calling it "Hidden Gems 2.0." The campaign highlights the compromises made to ensure that the proposed wilderness benefits Colorado's Eagle and Summit counties - compromises based on feedback from hundreds of individuals and groups.

In Washington, D.C., Congressman Jared Polis (Dist. 2) is getting ready to introduce this year's version of the bill, as soon as the federal budget is settled.

"It's the most valuable resource we have. Protecting it to ensure it's there for future generations to enjoy is one of the most important things we can do."

The Hidden Gems Wilderness would give permanent protection to 342,000 acres of public land in Colorado - preserving it for activities like hunting, hiking, horseback riding, backpacking and livestock grazing.

The plan has been reworked dozens of times since the first proposal in 2007, which suggested protecting more than 600,000 acres. Pete Kolbenschlag, director of the Hidden Gems Campaign, says public input has been crucial to create a proposal that satisfies nearly everyone.

"What's great about wilderness is that it kind of leaves intact something that has been here for a long time. It's the landscape against which Colorado in modern times has come about. It ensures some of that natural legacy is going to stick around."

Polis says this process of compromise is a "best practice" for protecting public lands.

"I was just amazed at the amount of interest. In one meeting in Eagle County at Battle Mountain High School, we had about 500 people come. We had a very collaborative process in putting this together."

Information on the Hidden Gems Campaign is available at www.whiteriverwild.org.

Kathleen Ryan, Public News Service - CO