November 17, 2023-
This week The Wilderness Land Trust completed the purchase of 17 properties totaling 162 in and around the Handies Peak and Red Cloud Wilderness Study Areas in Colorado.
Near Silverton and Lake City, the Handies Peak and Red Cloud Wilderness Study Areas draw a wide variety of recreationists. Several of the acquired properties are located near the trailhead and trail to American Basin, one of the most iconic scenic vistas in Colorado. The Alpine Gulch Trail runs through another of the properties. These two wilderness study areas have been recommended for designation as wilderness and are included in the Colorado Wilderness Act which has been passed by the US House and awaits a Senate vote. In removing these potential future wilderness inholdings before the wilderness is designated, we are helping to avoid management conflicts, including for public access, before they arise.
The area also has significant ecological value. In addition to being home to Bighorn Sheep and the endangered Uncompahgre Fritillary Butterfly, some of the properties are within a one-mile corridor separating the proposed wilderness with the already designated Uncompahgre Wilderness. Safeguarding against development in these wildlife corridors is important in the landscape-scale protection needed to build climate resilience in our wild places. The Handies Peak WSA also includes the headwaters of the Gunnison River, Animas River, and Rio Grande, which supply drinking water to many downstream communities.
The properties are accessed by the Alpine Loop Backcountry Byway, a very popular OHV route that traverses 63 miles through the alpine on roads built during the mining boom, including over Cinnamon and Engineer Pass. The properties’ proximity to this popular motorized route put them at especially high risk for development. In fact, while visiting the properties our lands specialists saw several newly constructed cabins on other nearby private properties. Real estate prices in the area for these remote properties are considerably higher than in other parts of Colorado, and are only rising. All of this makes protecting these properties not only critical, but urgent. There are still many remaining private inholdings in the area which the Trust is pursuing. As we near the end of the year and its accompanied fundraising drive, your continued support will help move these 17 properties through the transfer process, placing them in public ownership for generations to come, and will help us to protect more private properties in the area.