With President Biden’s commitment to mitigate climate change and protect biodiversity by safeguarding 30 percent of America’s lands and waters by 2030, the National Wilderness Preservation System is back on center stage. Opportunities abound to help realize the 30×30 vision in Colorado, and The Wilderness Land Trust is poised to lead the way.
Threats to Colorado Wilderness
In Colorado, approximately 7,683 acres of private lands exist within designated wilderness areas. These lands are holes in the wilderness and have their own set of management rules. Minerals can be extracted, roads can be built, and residential homes constructed.
The Wilderness Land Trust’s Mission is to purchase private wilderness inholdings from willing sellers and then transfer them over to public ownership to be incorporated into the surrounding wilderness. We are systematically acquiring these lands and filling in the holes until Colorado’s wilderness areas are completely free from the threat of private development. This is a two-step process. Step 1: purchase the inholding. Step 2: transfer inholding to public ownership.
The Wilderness Land Trust has 11 projects underway in the state of Colorado. This includes the acquisition of seven inholdings totaling 406 acres and the transfer of four private parcels to public ownership to become wilderness that total 57 acres (see attached maps for location).
When this work is complete, a total of 463 acres of new wilderness will be added to Colorado’s wilderness areas and permanently protected from private development, now and for future generations.
Colorado Project Areas
Maroon Bells – Snowmass Wilderness
A view of the Maroon Bells – Snowmass Wilderness during recent site visit
Colorado’s fourth largest wilderness was designated in 1964, spans 181,976 acres and is home to 100 miles of trail over nine passes above 12,000 feet. This wilderness is also known for its glacial valleys, alpine lakes, and six peaks that rise above 14,000 feet.
The Trust has already purchased and transferred to public ownership 27 properties totaling 962 acres and is currently negotiating the purchase of additional acreage to further reduce the threat of development to this pristine area.
Holy Cross Wilderness
The view from a recent site visit in the Holy Cross Wilderness
Designated in 1980, The Holy Cross Wilderness totals 122,446 acres. Named after Mount of the Holy Cross, this beautiful landscape is characterized by rugged ridgelines and glacier-carved valleys complete with spruce-fir forests, cascading streams, dozens of lakes and more than 150 miles of trail.
To date, the Trust has purchased 25 properties (24 have transferred) totaling 545 acres. We are currently negotiating four acquisitions that are under threat of private development.
The Raggeds Wilderness
The Raggeds Wilderness was designated in 1980 and totals 64,304 acres. It gets its name from dramatic rocky slopes that reach a prominent “serrated” peak. Ragged Mountain rises to 12,094 feet and the wilderness contains numerous creeks and small lakes, as well as about 50 miles of trails.
The Trust has purchased and transferred 17 properties totaling 696 acres in this wilderness and is currently pursuing acquisition of property just outside the wilderness boundary that, if left unprotected, has the potential for mineral exploration.
Fossil Ridge Wilderness
Fossil Ridge Wilderness
Designated in 1993, this wilderness currently sits at 32,062 acres. Raw granite towers hover above several beautiful shallow lakes and long valleys are carved by ancient glaciers sprinkled with pine, spruce, fir and aspen. The limestone ridge rises above 13,000 feet, climbing well beyond the tree line, and contains the fossilized remains of numerous prehistoric sea creatures. Climb above Lamphier Lake and you’ll be treated to a view of almost half of Colorado’s fourteeners. This small wilderness also contains about 22 miles of maintained trails.
The Trust is working on it’s first acquisition in this pristine wilderness on Cross Mountain. The property has motorized access which means a higher potential for development. With the purchase of this property, the road will no longer be in use and the development threat removed.
Emerald Lake, Weminuche Wilderness
Designated in 1975 and expanded by the Colorado Wilderness Acts of 1980 and 1993, the Weminuche is the largest designated wilderness in Colorado at 497,61 acres. Located in the San Juan and Rio Grande National Forests of southwestern Colorado, its average elevation is 10,000 feet. Fifty miles of the Continental Divide runs through the Weminuche, diverting its headwaters to either the Pacific or Atlantic oceans.
The Trust has purchased seven properties (six transferred) in the Weminuche totaling 205 acres.
The Trust’s 7.5 acre Emerald Lake property in the rugged mountains above the smaller of two Emerald Lakes was purchased, along with two other adjacent parcels, in 2018. The other two parcels transferred to the U.S. Forest Service in 2020. This remaining parcel has some title issues that the Trust is working to clean up in order to transfer the parcel to public ownership. It is slated to transfer by the end of 2022.
We are also working to acquire a property along the Whitehead Trail, which would preserve public access to the trail and an incredible alpine landscape.
Mount Massive Wilderness
The Blue Lake region of the Mount Massive Wilderness
Designated in 1980, the Mount Massive Wilderness is 29027 acres. At 14,421 feet, Mount Massive is Colorado’s second highest peak. Just south of the Wilderness stands Mount Elbert at 1443 feet, Colorado’s highest summit.
The Trust is working to transfer its 20-acre Blue Lake property, purchased in 2012. It is the only private inholding in this wilderness area and upon transfer to the U.S. Forest Service, the Mount Massive Wilderness will be made whole.
Collegiate Peaks Wilderness
Collegiate Peaks Wilderness
This wilderness was designated in 1980 and is currently 165,864 acres. With eight “fourteeners” (peaks exceeding 14,000 feet in elevation), Collegiate Peaks Wilderness probably possesses the highest average elevation of any wilderness in the Lower 48. More than a dozen trailheads makes this region a popular hiking destination.
The Trust is working to transfer two properties in the Collegiate Peaks:
Panama-Principal Lode is 19 acres just off of the road to Independence Pass. This property was purchased by the Trust in 2020. Some work must be done to get it wilderness ready before transferring it to the U.S. Forest Service, including removing a metal roof and piles of garbage and filling in an old mining adit. The Trust plans to complete the work in the summer of 2021 with the help of volunteers from the Independence Pass Foundation.
Spotted Tail Lode is 10.33 acres adjacent to the Panama-Principal parcel. This property was purchase by the Trust in 2019. Some complications with the title are being worked through and the property is slated to transfer to the U.S. Forest Service by the end of 2022.
With the Spotted Tail and Panama-Principal lode properties transferred, this part of the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness will be free of the threat of private development.
We need your help to accomplish this goal
The Wilderness Land Trust needs to raise $350,000 by Oct. 1, 2021. Extensive staff time and due diligence is required to acquire and transfer each parcel. As such, 85 percent of each contribution will be used to cover the cost of land acquisition. The remaining 15 percent will go towards legal work, surveys, title work, field visits, and contract negotiations, among other things.
Thank you for your consideration. With your generous support today, 463 acres will soon be protected forever.
For more information, contact:
Brad Borst, President at 206-397-5240 (c) | firstname.lastname@example.org
Kelly Conde, Lands Specialist at 208-223-3964 (c) | email@example.com