La Plata County backs roadless areas

Several of Southwest Colorado’s most pristine areas are sitting in the crosshairs. Last summer, the Bush Administration eliminated protection for designated roadless areas in favor of oil and gas development and mining and logging. As a result, local places like the HD Mountains, Missionary Ridge and the Hermosa Creek drainage are in danger of feeling the impacts. Although it took several months to achieve unanimity, La Plata County made a strong statement last week in favor of protecting these endangered places.

The Bush Administration announced that it would be modifying the Roadless Area Conservation Rule last summer. Conservationists have charged that under the “modification,” none of the nation’s 60 million acres of designated roadless areas are protected from new roads and natural resource extraction. In the Durango region, the announcement affects approximately 600,000 acres including in the HD Mountains, and the Florida and the Hermosa roadless areas. The modification took effect in August of last year.

However, state governments do have some recourse. The Bush Administration’s new plan does give state governors the option to petition the Forest Service to recommend how they would manage these roadless areas, and Colorado Gov. Bill Owens has taken a proactive approach to the responsibility. Last December, a hearing to gauge public sentiment on roadless protection was held at Tamarron. Agencies, governments and a vast majority of the public in attendance spoke in favor of protecting these endangered places. La Plata County was conspicuously absent.

However, on Feb. 28, commissioner Sheryl Ayers finally fell in line behind roadless area protection, and the commissioners unanimously adopted “a resolution in favor of protecting San Juan National Forest roadless areas.”

Dave Peterson, of Trout Unlimited’s Public Lands Initiative, said that the long-awaited adoption along with the prior support send a strong message to the Owens task force.

“A long time ago, the City of Durango, the San Juan National Forest, the Colorado Division of Wildlife, and a vast majority of citizens all came out in favor of roadless area protection,” Peterson said. “Having the county sign on to it is the final link in that chain makes it an almost unanimous statement.”

La Plata County Commissioner Wally White commented that Bush’s roadless rule modification is particular significant for La Plata County.

“It’s important to note that we have one of the largest roadless areas in the state, the Hermosa Roadless Area,” White said. “Our roadless areas have a tremendous draw for people, not only locals but tourists, and they also protect the watersheds that are so important for our municipalities.”

White added that the resolution is not about excluding motorized recreation or closing off additional areas as some have alleged. “This isn’t about additional protection,” he said. “It’s about maintaining the level of protection that’s already been established. Once these places are gone, they’re gone. We need to see these areas preserved for coming generations.”


Film fest draws to successful close

 The curtain went down on the inaugural Durango Independent Film Festival last Sunday, and event organizers proclaimed the reborn festival a success. Rounding out the festival was a spirited award ceremony at the Abbey Theater offering 15 film and filmmaker awards and its first ever Sponsor Spirit of Film Award.

“We’re very pleased with the crowd response to the over 66 terrific films and great parties offered by DIFF,” commented Carla Finlay DIFF Board Member.

From March 1 - 5, DIFF showcased more than 65 films and hosted more than 25 filmmakers. On March 5, the festival’s jury revealed its best of the fest. A list of award winners follows:

- Best Documentary Short - “Ride of the Mergansers”/ Jury Commendation - “Run To Jays”

- Best Documentary Feature - “Balloon Hat”/ Jury Commendation – “The Sandman’s Garden”

- Best Live Action Short - “The Last Farm”/ Jury Commendation - “SPIN”

- Best Animated Short - “Joyride”

- Best Narrative Feature - “The Far Side of the Moon”/ Jury Commendation - “The Gigolo’s”

- Filmmakers Award - “Cowboy Del Amor”

- Audience Awards: Best Short - “Lost People of Mountain Village”; Best Documentary - “El Inmigrante”; Best Feature - “Joy”; Best Children’s Film - “Spin”; School Award - “Mighty Times: The Legacy of Rosa Parks”

The festival also introduced a new award – The Sponsor Spirit of Film Award – to recognize an exceptional sponsor of this year’s festival. That honor went to Fred and Diane Wildfang, and Kirk Komick, of the Rochester/Leland House Hotels.

DIFF plans to carry the festival’s success into the coming year. On April 12, the festival will present its first monthly screening with “The Boys of Baraka” at the Abbey Theatre.


Joelle Riddle joins commissioner race

A well-known community leader and La Plata County native threw her hat into the ring for a seat on the La Plata County Commission this week. Former chair of the La Plata County Democratic Party, Joelle Riddle, announced her candidacy March 4 at the La Plata County Fairgrounds.

“I’m running for La Plata County commissioner because I want to use my diverse professional and community leadership experience as well as my love of La Plata County to create a stronger sense of community that my son and other children can be proud of,” Riddle said. “I’m also running because I want to expand both educational and economic opportunities so every resident of La Plata County can be part of a vibrant neighborhood.”

During the past several years, Riddle has served as the education program manager for Planned Parenthood, which provides health-care services such as cancer screenings and education materials to hundreds of families in La Plata County.  

Riddle said her vision for La Plata County involves collaboration and bipartisan solutions to problems that confront La Plata County. In late March, Riddle will begin a county-wide “listening tour,” saying, “It is vitally important to reach out and truly listen to the concerns and issues of citizens so they feel that government is being responsive to their needs.”

Riddle is seeking the La Plata County commissioner seat in District 1 and will challenge Republican incumbent Sheryl Ayers.


Durangoans invited to guide future

Locals still have plenty of time to weigh in on the future of the City of Durango. As the city’s comprehensive planning process moves forward, a public workshop is planned for March 14.

The workshop will include a brief overview of the project to introduce new participants to the planning process, presentation of the findings of the growth alternatives exercise that attracted more than 150 participants in January, and a discussion of growth management strategies.

The workshop will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Durango Arts Center, 802 E. Second Ave. Citizens are encouraged to attend, even if they have not attended previous workshop sessions. More information is available at the project website at  An additional public workshop will be held in mid-April.

– compiled by Will Sands


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