Plan calls for more protection of scenic, recreation areas in parts of state
SETH BOSTER email@example.com/636-0332
The Gazette, Colorado Springs
The Bureau of Land Management has released a plan to manage a vast mosaic of canyonlands, grasslands and mountains in southern, central and eastern Colorado. In the works for close to a decade, the plan is officially called the Eastern Colorado Resource Management Plan. “Eastern” might be deceiving; the focus area spans beyond the plains to the Arkansas River Valley through Cañon City and Fremont and Chaffee counties, as well as parts of South Park. Those are lands that have increasingly been battlegrounds for conservation and extraction. The plan removes areas identified with “minimumyield” potential for oil and gas leasing and, advocates say, makes preservation a high priority. The praise matches similar reaction to a plan recently proposed for large portions of western Colorado that have also historically been of interest for energy development. The Bureau of Land Management “has come a long way in having adequate protections for these high-value lands that should be protected in some category,” said John Sztukowski, the conservation director with Wild Connections who has been involved with planning efforts since 2015. His advocacy group has lauded the plan for listing more than 300,000 acres worthy of designations such as wilderness, Areas of Critical Environmental Concern and Backcountry Conservation Areas. Segments of the Arkansas River are among waterways identified for suitable additions to the National Wild and Scenic River system. Ten areas totaling more than 70,000 acres were highlighted for specific recreation management. Those include some of the best-known lands within the plan: the Royal Gorge, Guffey Gorge, Phantom Canyon, the scenic drive known as the Gold Belt and the Salida Trails network. Shelf Road, the rock climbing destination, is another focus of the plan. More than 87,000 acres are proposed as Backcountry Conservation Areas “to protect wildlife habitat and provide outstanding hunting and fishing opportunities.” Among places to be managed in a way “to maintain wilderness characteristics” are Badger Creek, Echo Canyon and Cooper Mountain — largely unknown to outsiders but not to concerned locals. The plan covers largely “offthe-beaten path areas,” said Nate Porter, longtime owner of Salida Mountain Sports, “but yet they offer a lot, not only in terms of recreation, but for wildlife habitat and areas that should be protected.” Western Energy Alliance has previously voiced opposition to the plan, in a letter saying restrictions would “severely impact the opportunity to responsibly develop oil and natural gas resources.” The letter went on: “By its nature, multiple use engenders coexistence, not competition. We can develop the energy on public lands that all Americans own while protecting the land, wildlife, air, water, cultural and other resources.” Western Energy Alliance has alleged the Bureau of Land Management’s broader shift threatens the grid and consumer prices at a time that infrastructure is ill-prepared for the renewable energy transition. The Eastern Colorado Resource Management Plan highlights millions of acres with “high potential” for wind and solar development. Yet “the plan does leave a vast majority of land open to oil and gas leasing,” Sztukowski’s said. Still, he counted himself “very pleased with what’s being proposed as far as on-the-ground designations,” he said, adding: “I think at least getting proper management in place for these areas is going to be more helpful overall.” • Coloradans love the season of love. That is, the season when elk proceed with mating rituals in what has been described as a “wildlife soap opera” in one of the state’s most scenic, iconic destinations. The elk rut coincides with fall colors, making it one of the busiest times of year at Rocky Mountain National Park. Coloradans and travelers from afar annually descend upon Estes Park from mid-september through much of October, when bulls vie for cows throughout town and the lower elevations. If you’re new to the experience, here’s what to know: What exactly is going on? You’ll hear bugling — a sort of screeching that might sound less than masculine. That is, however, the big-antlered bulls calling for mates. You might see bulls clash, doing what they must to compete for or maintain their female groups called harems. You might see bulls give chase, corralling stray members of their harem. You might also witness very intimate instances between bull and cow where you’ll want to shield the eyes of kids. Where to go and how to go In Estes Park, the animals commonly make base around downtown, at Bond Park by town hall. They are also usually around the golf courses and along the recreation path that encircles Lake Estes. If you’re going into Rocky Mountain National Park, you need to be aware of the timed-entry permit system. One online reservation option is the whole park including the Bear Lake Road corridor. This includes the prime viewing meadow of Moraine Park. Booked in advance on recreation.gov, a permit is required for the corridor from 5 a.m.-6 p.m. The other reservation option is for the whole park except Bear Lake Road. You can go to great viewing meadows such as Upper Beaver Meadows and Horseshoe Park with this permit, which is required from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Those permits get booked up fast, especially for weekends. The good news if you miss out: You might be better off entering the park before or after those required time windows anyway — closer to dawn and dusk, when the animals are most active. With or without a timedentry permit, you’ll need to buy a park pass ($30 per vehicle). Expect long lines at the entrance stations. The permit system ends after Oct. 22. What else to know For safety, officials advise keeping 75 feet of distance (think two school buses) between you and the elk. When you park, turn off the engine and lights, quietly shut doors and talk as little as possible. It is illegal to call or disturb wildlife in any way. Don’t bring pets. Flash photography is prohibited. • There are two more chances this year to visit America’s national parks for free, and one of them is coming up. In celebrating National Public Lands Day, the National Park Service will waive fees at all of its properties Sept. 23. That includes Colorado’s four national parks: Rocky Mountain National Park, Great Sand Dunes, Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Mesa Verde. The free day also applies to several of Colorado’s national monuments that otherwise enforce fees. Those include Colorado National Monument near Grand Junction; Dinosaur National Monument also spanning the Western Slope; Florissant Fossil Beds west of Colorado Springs; and Bent’s Old Fort outside La Junta. The last free day of the year is set for Veterans Day, Nov. 11.