The Thompson Divide: Standing at the Summit

 Photo: Trout Unlimited www.tu.org

Photo: Trout Unlimited www.tu.org

Excerpt from Aspen Times, read the full article here.

By Scott Willoughby

In a landlocked rise of rock and ice, Thompson Divide flows like a vein of Colorado gold. This vast sweep of lustrous aspen groves and lush conifer forests surrounded by the iconic sentinel of Mount Sopris, the towering Elk Mountains, rugged Ragged Wilderness and verdant Grand Mesa is flanked by open, grassy meadows and cool, clean trout streams offering a treasure of precious, wild habitat. The 221,000-acre backcountry expanse serves as one of the most pristine natural environments in the West, and among the most deserving of preservation.

Described as a "Colorado Crown Jewel" by Gov. John Hickenlooper himself, the rolling, mid-elevation backcountry is home to a rare combination of natural and recreational resources in the heart one the nation's most popular outdoor playgrounds. Because it supports recreation, ranching and other local industries, the Thompson Divide produces an estimated 300 jobs and pumps more than $30 million into the local economy, much of it during the fall harvest and hunting seasons when the hillsides bustle with life.

Critical keystone habitat supports some of the state's largest herds of Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer and dozens of other species benefiting from one of the densest concentrations of roadless areas in the West. Native cutthroat trout line the vital cold water streams and ponds that continue to serve as a water source for the husky bruins once hunted by conservation champion President Theodore Roosevelt more than 100 years ago.

A new chapter was added to this storied landscape recently when a coalition of local government officials, businesses, ranchers, sportsmen and citizen groups successfully orchestrated the cancellation of 25 oil and gas drilling leases improperly issued in the early 2000s within Thompson Divide's boundaries and settled a lawsuit challenging the cancellation last summer. The leases covered more than 21,000 acres (about 33 square miles), featuring prime big game habitat and native cutthroat trout streams in watersheds providing source water to the Crystal and Roaring Fork rivers, as well as local communities.

But the battle is far from won. Keep reading.

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