Durango celebrates Hermosa act

Salvation Army’s kettle funds programs other 11 months

by Missy Votel

It’s official. It’s been a long trip from drawing board to Oval Office, but the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act received presidential sign-off this week.

On Fri. Dec. 19, the two Colorado lawmakers responsible for getting the act passed in their respective chambers – Democrat Sen. Michael Bennet and Republican Rep. Scott Tipton – will be in Durango to honor the occasion.

“Folks in Southwest Colorado can finally claim victory,” Bennet said in a news release. “Everyone – from sportsmen, to snowmobilers, to conservationists, to the mining  industry – can celebrate their hard work. This bill ... should serve as a model for Washington.”

Part of the massive National Defense Authorization bill, the act was approved by the House on Dec. 4 and gained Senate passage last Fri., Dec. 12. The locally crafted bill will protect more than 100,00 acres of the San Juan National Forest north of Durango with a 70,000-acre “special management area” and a 37,000-acre wilderness area. The bill provides a management plan to protect not only the watershed itself, but native trout habitat in Hermosa Creek as well as the surrounding roadless areas. The unique legislation, however, will still allow for traditional recreational uses of the area, including the nationally renowned 18-mile Hermosa Creek Trail. Outside the designated wilderness area, the popular corridor will remain open to anglers, hikers, ATVs, dirt bikes and mountain bikes. The bill also establishes the Molas Pass Recreation Area, which will allow for the continuation of snowmobile and dog mushing on more than 400 acres of BLM land surrounding Molas Lake.


What:  Community Celebration with Sen. Michael Bennet, Rep. Scott Tipton and local elected officials
When: Fri., Dec. 19, noon - 1 p.m.
Where:  Powerhouse Science Center
Hosted by San Juan Citizens Alliance with food and beverages from Carver Brewing Co.­

The act stemmed from the work of the Hermosa Creek River Protection Workgroup, which first formed in 2008. The workgroup, made up of hunters, anglers, snowmobilers, water districts, environmentalists, mountain bikers and logging and mining interests, among others, spent nearly two years hammering out a mutually agreeable plan to protecting the remote area.

Other supporters include La Plata and San Juan counties, City of Durango, Town of Silverton, Wilderness Society, Trout Unlimited, International Mountain Bicycling Association and the Colorado Snowmobile Association.

The first attempt to pass the act in 2012 died as a result of political wrangling and congressional gridlock. The 2014 version was also beset with trouble when a revised version emerged from committee with changes that were unacceptable to most supporters. However, the bill was soon returned to a version closely resembling the original.

Environmentalists applauded the passage of the bill, which will prohibit new roads or mineral development in the 37,000-acre wilderness area. Traditional uses such as hunting, fishing, horseback riding and non-mechanized recreation will still be allowed.

“Alliance members are celebrating today, not just for a major victory on behalf  of this iconic watershed,  but for the success of a truly inclusive, ground-up, community process,” Executive Director of the San Juan Citizen Alliance Dan Olson said Tuesday. “Perhaps best of all, this is not the end of that process. These protections for Hermosa were born out of the River Protection Workgroup. It is our hope that this celebration will be the first, not the last, of the RPW efforts.”

The bill also includes measures to protect public lands in and around Durango, including Perin’s Peak, Animas Mountain, Horse Gulch and Lake Nighthorse. It also provides for the transfer of 82 acres of BLM land in Grandview to La Plata County for possible future fairgrounds.

“I feel that Congress has given an amazing Christmas present to the state of Colorado by passing the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act,” Durango Mayor Sweetie Marbury said. “We salute Senator Bennet, Senator Udall and Congressman Tipton for their work to carry this through Congress. This gift will last for generations.”

In addition to the Hermosa act, a number of other public lands measures were passed along with the defense reauthorization bill. These include wilderness areas in Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, as well as legislation that would protect lands in the North Fork of the Flathead River drainage in Montana from hard-rock mining and future oil and gas drilling and fracking. 

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