Hidden gems plan will prevent many existing activities in forest

By Kym Manula

Any compromises one makes with Hidden Gems Wilderness Proposal supporters, is the same as voting “Yes” to their proposal. Wilderness designation will restrict the majority of the U.S. population from ever enjoying the remote, accessible areas of Colorado’s public lands.

It is the mission of the U.S. Forest Service to manage the land so you and I can enjoy many opportunities to use, enjoy and care for the lands and waters that sustain us all. They also make sure that America’s forests and grasslands are in the healthiest condition they can be. The employees are just like you and me, in that they care deeply about the beautiful land we Americans can all enjoy.

I would like Hidden Gems supporters to explain how Spraddle Creek, in particular, was chosen as an area for their proposal as it does not meet the conditions set forth by the Wilderness Act of 1964.

Spraddle Creek was logged heavily in the 1940s. A dozer created the road. A metal culvert was installed in the road to channel the underground creek. Again, it was clear cut in 1985-86, when a firewood seller bought 100 acres for timber sale near an old sawmill that was located near the top of the Spraddle Creek road.

Due to that human activity, some management techniques by the Colorado Division of Wildlife and the Forest Service are necessary. For example, trees must be cut to allow grasses to grow because big horn sheep do not like to graze in areas where they cannot see a long distance. Wilderness designation does not allow the use of these management techniques.

Vail Stables is a business located on Forest Service land, holding a resort permit and an outfitter guide permit to offer guided horseback rides, youth horse camps and hunting services. Vail Stables is in serious jeopardy of going out of business should the Hidden Gems proposal pass through Congress.

The empty promises from the Hidden Gems supporters are false and misleading to everyone considering a supporting vote in the matter. They repeatedly tell me that my privileges will be grandfathered into the proposal. They promise that I can still use a chainsaw, or take larger groups out on trail rides, or that I can rescue someone on my ATV. It’s not at all clear these promises can be kept.

The enabling legislation would have to specifically state which exceptions would be allowed pertaining to specific areas and activities, and that is highly unlikely to occur.  Congress will likely designate areas as wilderness and tell the Forest Service to manage them.

The guidelines by which I operate are clearly stated in my standard operating plan for the White River National Forest, Holy Cross Ranger District. Those rules will not change with the Hidden Gems proposal, no matter how many times I am promise they will.

Under my permit, I manage approximately 9.6 miles of non-system trails in the Spraddle Creek area. It is my responsibility to remove hazard trees, deadfall blocking the trail and bushes that are too close to the trail. I maintain those trails for the health and safety of the thousands of unique visitors to the Spraddle Creek area.

It would be my pleasure to see Hidden Gems supporters clear the trails with a hand saw after each wind storm. My economic margin isn’t large enough to afford a lumberjack. Currently the guides can use chainsaws to clear quickly and then return to wrangling.

Guests can now ride an ATV down the mountain if injured, fatigued or if they suffer vertigo. In a wilderness area, they have to walk or we have to call the sheriff to conduct a rescue operation with our tax money.

Vail Stables will be required to coordinate the groups that are on the trail in such a way that they do not see each other because of the limitations on group size in wilderness. The purpose of wilderness is to allow people to experience solitude in a pristine environment. Because of this I could not allow customers on a one-hour ride to see or encounter those on the 1.5-hour ride, the two-hour ride, the three-hour ride or the kids in horse camp.

How can I do this and not violate the terms of my operating plan? I cannot.

And Hidden Gems supporters would not be able to do certain things either. Want to walk your dog in a large open space off its leash? It will not be legal in the wilderness. And that leash cannot exceed six feet in length.

People cannot ride bikes in a wilderness area.

There are those who are excited to have wilderness next to their house because the wildlife will be more abundant. The hunters will be excited by that too. Since they will not be able to drive deep into the forest, they will park near those houses, hike 100 yards away and start shooting.

The Hidden Gems website has a button asking people if they support wilderness. The Forest Service, every outfitter I know and I support wilderness, but it’s very different from supporting the Hidden Gems proposal. The long-term effects of this potential reclassification of enormous sections of land are overall detrimental and permanent.

I urge people to educate themselves on all facets and long-term ramifications of this proposal. If anyone is still in doubt about the issue, please take a horseback ride with me. I’ll give them a real education with factual information and official government documents to back it up.

Kym Manula is the operator of Vail Stables which provides horseback trips in the White River National Forest outside of Vail.


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