Tag Archive for: chesapeake bay

Last threat of development removed from the sacred Blanca Peak

January 26, 2024-

The Wilderness Land Trust recently accepted a donation of 45 acres on the slopes of Blanca Peak, removing the last private property from the peak.

Blanca Peak stands at over 14,300 feet just outside of the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness in southern Colorado. But the peak is also known by another name, one that predates the Spanish descriptor of its near-vertical white slopes by centuries.

For the Dinè, or Navajo, the peak is Sisnaajiní. It is one of the four corners marking the boundary of the Dinetah, the traditional Dinè homeland, along with three other sacred mountains— Dibé Nitsaa in the north (Hesperus Mountain in the La Plata Mountain range of Colorado), Doko’o’osliid in the west (Humphrey Peak in the San Francisco Peaks of Northern Arizona), and Tsoodzil in the south (Mt. Taylor Peak, west of Albuquerque, New Mexico).

More than just a location marker, Sisnaajiní is known as an internal compass, orienting one’s mind and physical presence on earth. Like the sun rising in the east, Sisnaajiní represents thought, the place where each day, and each action, begins. It was a gift from the Holy People to the Dinè: “When the Holy People had assembled the things with which to dress the East mountain, they traveled by way of a sunbeam and rainbow beam to decorate Sisnaajiní. The Holy People dressed Sisnaajiní with a perfect white shell for positive thoughts and thinking. Then the Holy People ran a bolt of lighting through a sacred mountain to fasten the East mountain to our Mother Earth.” (Navajopeople.org)

Beginning in the 1890s the slopes of Blanca Peak were mined for silver and gold, the mining claims eventually leading to a number of private inholdings surrounded by National Forest, some with a road leading to them. When the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness was designated in 1993, a strip of land along the Huerfano River where the access road runs, was excluded from the wilderness area, cutting it in two.

While hiking into the nearby Lily Lake for a fishing trip in the early 2000s, David Carrick of Boulder, CO fell in love with the area, and after discovering how many private properties were still spread throughout it, he began buying them. Inspired by his love for public lands, David had a company helping to facilitate land transfers, and through one was able to transfer all but six of the private properties on Blanca Peak to public ownership. With a road leading to them, the remaining properties had a high risk of development, and David was approached with interest to buy them and develop them with cabins. But David, and his wife Pamela, chose a different path. Instead they donated the remaining six Blanca Peak properties to The Wilderness Land Trust. “I wasn’t familiar with the Trust previously, but as I started looking into them and understanding how they work, we felt confident that if we handed the properties over to them, they would be able to hold them until they could become public lands, which is what we wanted to see,” says David.

Thanks to the generosity of David and Pamela, and their commitment to seeing the landscape around Blanca Peak unified as public lands, the Trust has now begun the work of transferring the properties to the National Forest. With it no longer providing access to the private properties, the hope is that the road running along the Huerfano River can be converted to a trail, and someday the fracture through the wilderness area can be closed. With the last private properties removed, this sacred mountain is protected, ensuring it is open for future generations of Dinè for cultural and spiritual practices, as well as future generations of mountaineers inspired by its challenging climb.


Get more wilderness news in your inbox!

Priest Wilderness connection protected in the Trust’s first East Coast Project

January 12, 2024-

Priest Wilderness connection protected in the Trust’s first East Coast project

The Wilderness Land Trust has acquired 10 acres of valley forest directly connecting the Tye River and Priest Wilderness of Virginia, ensuring that habitat connectivity, watershed protection, and the wilderness experience of thousands of visitors a year is not interrupted by the threat of development.

This week we are celebrating a new acquisition adjoining Virginia’s Priest Wilderness, not just for the habitat it will directly protect, but as a major milestone for our organization. In 2022 the Trust set a strategic goal to expand our work east of the Rockies in response to a growing need to protect lands in and around the often smaller wilderness areas of the East. With little buffer of public lands surrounding them, they are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of private development at their borders. The Tye River acquisition marks a first step in pursuing this goal, and is also a prime example of its importance.

Only a few hours’ drive away, the 6,000-acre Priest Wilderness provides access to life-changing wilderness experiences for the millions of residents of Richmond, Virginia, and the Washington DC metro area. The Tye River, a tributary of the James River, is one of the most scenic and popular recreational waterways in Virginia, and provides critical habitat to dozens of species of fish and aquatic wildlife. The famed Appalachian Trail also runs through the Priest Wilderness, only a few miles from the Tye River project. The George Washington National Forest, where the Priest Wilderness is located, provides drinking water for over 4 million people, and is part of the imperiled Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Protecting intact ecosystems in the watershed is critical to its health and the supply of clean, safe drinking water.

The Priest Wilderness and Tye River connect over the span of only a mile, creating an important link in habitat connectivity for species like black bears, peregrine falcons, and lady’s slipper orchids. The Tye River property sits in the middle of this connection, and its protection ensures this important link will remain intact.

As with almost all of our projects, local community partnerships played an important role in the success of the project. The property was first brought to the Trust’s attention by the Virginia Wilderness Committee, which helped to secure wilderness designation for the Priest Wilderness in 2000. “The acquisition of this small parcel of land along the Tye River, closes an important gap in land adjacent to The Priest and will protect The Priest Wilderness from the sights and sounds of future development” says Ellen Stuart-Haëntjens, Executive Director of Virginia Wilderness Committee.

Get more wilderness news in your inbox!