Back in the day (2010 or thereabouts) I was peeved by the Hidden Gems proposal. The process that was used to try to protect some land in the region from mining and overuse seemed sneaky and overdone in the end. It was a ham-handed attempt to ramrod a legislative proposal quickly without a lot of comment or general community input with the final product. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, Whetstone Mountain was proposed to be wilderness and off-limits to a lot of citizens. Here’s where I would normally liken it to Republican U.S. senators working on a hidden health care proposal behind closed doors, but like everyone, I’m tired of the national political circus so I won’t go there—this week.
Anyway, Hidden Gems eventually and rightly folded under its own duplicitous weight.
That is why I am so impressed with the year-long effort from the Gunnison Public Lands Initiative. Started in February 2016, a GPLI working group that included representatives of a very wide variety of public lands user groups, from motorheads to hikers seeking silence, came together and have reached consensus. That word is not used often in politics anymore (see Republican health care initiative taking place in secret right now), so to see something close to home come up with a plan is impressive. That sort of consensus is reached with respect, compromise and hard work. The draft plan uses a web of wilderness areas and special management area designations to protect sections of public lands in our backyard. Ultimately, federal legislation will be required to get the plan implemented.
I have not delved into the nitty gritty of the draft but I will. The fact that HCCA, the Gunnison Stockgrowers, Sno Trackers and CBMBA all support this proposal is a giant vote of confidence that I respect. Thanks goes out to the working group for all of their work—and consensus.
The GPLI wants even more feedback from more people. The group is hosting an open house this Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Gunnison Arts Center to present the plan and get more comment. Everyone is invited.
It is satisfying to see that the Gunnison County commissioners Tuesday indicated they will likely join Mt. Crested Butte and Crested Butte in contributing hard dollars to help mitigate impacts to the backcountry during our increasingly busy summers. Led by commissioner John Messner, the BOCC agreed to consider a $20,000 contribution to go toward the grassroots programs forming to help maintain the backcountry. Whether it is the Crested Butte Conservation Corps, Peak Protectors or Mountain Manners programs, the people living here realize we can’t keep inviting people to recreate in the backcountry without being prepared to help keep it nice. That means physical trail maintenance and sustained education efforts.
Without a real effort to preserve what it is we all love about the public lands out our back doors, we will lose it. That has become evident as damage is increasingly done and more and more people venture into our summer backcountry. And the real effort takes real dollars. So kudos to the three government entities and others like 1% for Open Space, the Tourism Association, RMBL and the chamber of commerce for pitching in.
The next step is to find a long-term funding source to keep these programs active and vibrant. The commissioners say they will be looking at the question. My suggestion is to look at the Local Marketing District pot and not just automatically give the bulk of the money to the Tourism Association. Consider spending a good amount on backcountry management that will entice visitors to return. Visitors who already understand and appreciate the treasure that is the backcountry we are trying to conserve are easier to integrate than newbies from L.A. every year. That would be marketing money well spent, in my opinion, and that particular fund has a reserve fund in the hundreds of thousands of dollars at the moment.
I have to say that when people are elected to office—especially local office—it isn’t always an easy seat to fill. The scrutiny is more and the standards higher. And frankly, while not always fair, that is the way it should be. So I am disappointed in Crested Butte councilman Paul Merck and what appears to have been his deliberate effort to avoid getting a building permit for building going on in his home for months. If a town councilman is not expected to obtain the proper permits and follow the rules, why should anyone else be expected to do so?
I’ve known Paul a long time and his sometimes laissez faire attitude can on occasion be charming. But he chose to run for public office and doing so involves having to be a little more by-the-book. To ignore the town officials repeatedly when asked to fulfill town regulations while expecting others to do so is not lazy or charming. It is rude and unfitting for a public official. It puts the staff in a really uncomfortable position where they to have to badger their boss to follow the rules. That’s weird and not fair.
Look, if you were lost in the backcountry, Merck would be one of the first to strap on the hiking boots and look for you (probably not me right now) without a thought. I appreciate that in him. And that is why I am disappointed that it appears he tried to game the system and stay outside the rules he ultimately is elected to enforce.