On a recent backpacking trip near Mendicant Ridge, two friends and I were greeted by the wild scenery I always hoped for on this kind of trip. For three days we had the pleasure of hiking along Curecanti Creek, traversing wild meadows, and hunting for views of the West Elks. Gazing into the West Elk Wilderness, it soothes my mind to know that these designated places exist, protected for future generations - regardless of whether or not I am able to experience them in person.

We find ourselves at a critical point in time when it comes to forest management. The US Forest Service released its draft plan for the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forest on August 13th, opening a public comment period until November 12th. This document is essential for the future of our forests; the current forest management plan was written in 1983, so a plan finalized today would still remain in effect in 2060 if that trend continues.

The Forest Service has an opportunity at this time to set aside areas that exhibit high qualities of Wilderness character as Recommended Wilderness. Landscapes such as the one I backpacked through, Mendicant Ridge, have extremely wild character, as do forest lands surrounding Paonia such as Mt. Lamborn, Chalk Mountain, and the Elk Park Roadless Areas. Despite this, their Wilderness character remains unprotected. The Forest Service needs to hear from us that we care about Wilderness and care about protecting these areas from future development. I encourage everyone who loves Wilderness to advocate for the inclusion of Coal Mountain, Mendicant Ridge, Elk Park, and Chalk Mountain Recommended Wilderness areas in the GMUG Forest draft plan.

Mike Burkely


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