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Sarvis Creek Wilderness Expansion

The Sarvis Creek Wilderness is a true gem. Located between the towns of Oak Creek, Steamboat Springs, and Kremmling it’s the only subalpine Wilderness in Colorado . It also happens to be our back yard at our home away from home down from the Gore Pass. As I’ve learned more about this particular wilderness, it’s history, and it’s negotiation I’m not at all surprised that a chunk of it was once negotiated away in attempt to become a ski resort. Now, Sarvis Creek Wilderness is set for expansion.

Development and Conservation

It’s been a long time coming. Ever since Sarvis Creek was brought to Congress to be designated as a federally protected Wilderness Area in the 1970’s the northwest chunk had been considered for a ski resort. A USFS permit was issued for the land around Mount Baldy to be developed for a ski resort, and subsequently the bill identifying the chunk of Routt National Forest for Sarvis Creek Wilderness was reduced by the acreage on the permit. The permit was later abandoned, and a resort never developed. With that land remaining wild, it’s continued to be a key part of the watershed that feeds the Yampa river. It’s winter grazing and summer calving grounds for elk in the region.

Now both Colorado Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper joined with Representative Joe Neguse are introducing and co-sponsoring the Sarvis Wilderness Expansion Act which will add 6,817 acres to the total. It’s likely that this bill will be rolled up into an Omnibus style bill or a larger conservation bill rather than a standalone — given this Congress’ success rates in passing legislation.

Fighting Fires

Originally negotiations were to add 7,200 acres to the total but there were some concerns over wildfire mitigations. The Sarvis Creek Wilderness had been hit by pine beetle infestation like much of the state and has suffered multiple wildfires. There were concerns brough by the homeowners closer to Catamount that there would need to be a buffer zone to protect their property. As the Steamboat Pilot reported in June, there’s angst over the Wilderness designation and encroachment by civilization.

The Wilderness Act prohibits landing aircraft such as rotary wing aircraft used to fight fires in the wilderness. It also prohibits the use of motors, but it goes further it prohibits the use of wheels. This keeps our wild places wild, but perhaps paradoxically will cause fires to burn longer when you need to mobilize wildland firefighters. It should be noted that the bill being introduced includes a carve out to give the DOI Secretary the ability to use any means they deem neccesary to fight disease, insects, or fire. Though that would likely be wrapped up in the Wilderness Act.

Where is it Expanding?

The expansion of Sarvis Creek Wilderness will target the Green and Harrison Creek basins on the northwestern boundary of the current Wilderness. This includes the creeks themselves, the steep slopes, and the subalpine meadows. Harrison Creek currently forms part of the Northern border of the Wilderness Area not quite all the way to US-40. According to the Trapper’s Lake Group of the Colorado Sierra Club in their petition for the expansion, the reason why this section has remained pristine is it’s extreme difficulty of access.

I can attest that, having studied maps of the area and spent time coming in the Sarvis Creek trailhead. It’s no joke. This area is without official trails and the landscape is rugged and rocky. This is part of why some unlikely user groups came to the table in support of the expansion. Routt County Riders pledged support, despite the Wilderness Area prohibiting use of bikes because of the hard to access area.

Isn’t There Still a Ski Resort Proposal?

You may have read in the news that there’s still a ski resort proposal in the general area. Steamboat Springs has been recently eyed for a private ski resort development, and it’s made quite the splash. Earlier this week Steamboat Springs voted down a Brown Ranch proposal which would provide affordable housing in the valley. While it wasn’t perfect, it would have provided some assistance to the folks who really run the town of Steamboat Springs. Lifties to restaurant workers, electricians and plumbers. Yet another ski resort is looking to build and operate. The Yampa Valley Bugle reported that the company behind the Yellowstone ski resort is looking to revive the long defunct Stagecoach Ski Area. For reference, Stagecoach Lake State Park and Reservoir is immediately west of Sarvis Creek Wilderness.

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Last modified: March 28, 2024