Gateway braces for recreational rush

Feds look for ways to manage increasing use of public lands in remote area

Mesa County and federal government officials are opening discussions about ways to manage recreational use of public lands in and around Gateway, knowing more people will flock to the area’s red-rock canyons as Gateway Canyons Resort expands.

Commissioner Craig Meis said he recently met with Catherine Robertson, field manager of the Bureau of Land Management’s Grand Junction field office, and Mesa State College professor John Redifer to begin looking at how officials can prepare for hikers, mountain bikers, off-highway-vehicle enthusiasts and others who are playing or will play in increasing numbers in Gateway.

“There’s no question those public areas are going to see much greater use,” he said.

Meis said Robertson is angling to obtain more funding to help manage those users. He noted one way the area could be protected is through the implementation of a national conservation area, adding it’s just one of many land-management tools.

BLM spokeswoman Vanessa Delgado said roughly 8,500 people use public lands in and around Gateway annually, although she said those numbers could be skewed by people using public roads to access private property or passing through on their way to Utah.

“The BLM is certainly concerned with the increased (recreational) use in the Gateway area,” Delgado said. “With more development and more folks out there, it puts a little more pressure on us to maintain it for future use.”

In that same region of southwestern Mesa County, federal officials are discussing the possibility of converting the 26,000-acre Palisade Wilderness Study Area to a wilderness area.

U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., will meet with commissioners and Robertson today to talk about the future of the Palisade Wilderness Study Area, highlighted by the Palisade rock formation that towers over Gateway to the north.

Commissioner Steve Acquafresca said any move toward a wilderness designation has to start with Gateway-area residents and ranchers who have grazing permits in the region.

“I’m going to emphasize this has to be a locally driven effort,” he said.


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