Plotting the Alpine Triangle

Trout Unlimited looks for support in protecting 126,000 acres in San Juans

by Dale Rodebaugh Herald Staff Writer

A national river-conservation group is drumming up broad support for congressional protection of 126,000 acres in the San Juan Mountains where, a spokesman says, spectacular scenery, remnants of a rough-and-tumble past and recreational opportunities make the area a virtual paradise on Earth.

“The area is one of Colorado's most unique off-road and backcountry resources," said Ty Churchwell with the Five Rivers chapter of Trout Unlimited in Durango, who is heading the preservation campaign. “Our motto is 'Keep It Like It Is.'"

The target area - anchored by the towns of Silverton, Ouray and Lake City - is called the Alpine Triangle, although the shape more resembles a polliwog, with a long tail heading northeast down the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River. This high-country terrain, Churchwell said, attracts 300,000 visitors annually who hunt and fish, admire towering peaks and wildflowers, explore 195 miles of four-wheel-drive roads, camp and backpack and visit old ghost towns and abandoned mines. The number of visitors doesn't include those who arrive in Silverton by train, he said.

“We want to form a coalition that includes counties and municipalities, watershed groups, sportsmen, private landowners, recreational-vehicle groups and the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad," Churchwell said. “They all have an interest in conserving our heritage and our economic viability."