Nestled within the Weminuche Wilderness in Colorado and located at the top of a rise behind beautiful Emerald Lake sits three properties that, until now, were a threat to the designated wilderness around them. Thanks to our supporters, The Wilderness Land Trust now owns these properties and they are no longer in danger of being developed and disrupting this pristine wilderness area. Instead, they will be enjoyed in their natural state for generations to come.
The three linked properties that hover above Emerald Lake started as mining claims and total 27 acres.
The Weminuche is Colorado’s largest designated wilderness and is named after one of the federally recognized tribes of the Ute Nation, now known as the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe (Ute Mountain is sacred to the Ute people). The Weminuche is so large that it is divided in two by the Durango to Silverton Scenic Railway and 50 miles of the Continental Divide. Designated in 1975, it is such an iconic and romantic landscape that Congress expanded it twice – in 1980 and 1995.
This is the happy ending. But where did it begin? We started working with the prior owners more than a decade ago. The Emerald Lake properties were owned by a couple with deep roots over several generations in southwest Colorado. At one time, the owners worked the land by herding cattle in order to help pay for college. When it came time to sell, they were very happy to see their legacy help fill in the gaps in the Weminuche. To us, our work is about more than closing the deal. We get to know landowners and they believe in our mission and trust our organization and process.
Hiking the Weminuche Wilderness to Emerald Lake
The Trust inspects every property it acquires to see what’s on it and make sure it’s environmentally clean, or that we can handle the contamination we find. I love this part of the job the most, because even though it means driving 20 miles up a Forest Service road, I have the pure pleasure of hiking eight miles into this beautiful wilderness to see the property. And as an ambassador to wilderness protection, I spread the news of our acquisition to three different parties of hikers and backpackers along the way.
We will now take on the multi-year work to transfer this land to federal ownership and put another piece in the puzzle to help complete the Weminuche Wilderness. On to the next project!
Story by Reid Haughey, Intermountain Program Director