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Western Public Lands

Sen. Udall walks the talk of protecting Colorado’s Browns Canyon; advocates join him on hike

By Sarah Pizzo | 04.07.12 
NATHROP, Colo. – The snow fell in heavy, wet flakes as we trudged up Ruby Mountain into the Browns Canyon wilderness area. “Hey Sarah! I’m sure glad we have a lawyer along!” said a voice behind me. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw Senator Udall, grinning sheepishly, loping up the hill. “Well, umm, Senator…” I stammered, somewhat shocked that he remembered my name and profession out of the 20 or so people who had introduced themselves at the trailhead, “…someone has to make sure you stick to the rules back here.” He laughed appreciatively at my jest, clapping a hand warmly on my shoulder. “Please, call me Mark.”

Reaching a saddle overlooking the Arkansas River, we paused to let our rag-tag group assemble for a quick discussion. I was joined by several local outdoor sportsmen (hikers, equestrians, rafters, anglers, and hunters) and representatives of the BLM, Forest Service, and Colorado State Parks. Our group met Tuesday, April 3, with Senator Udall to discuss his proposal to permanently protect the Browns Canyon area with legislation designating it as a Wilderness Area or a National Monument. Senator Udall, an avid outdoorsman who has rafted Browns Canyon, was eager to get input on his proposal from local citizens and business owners.

As we climbed around huge rounded boulders and descended into steep red canyons, enjoying the scent of wet pinon, Senator Udall listened intently as the locals explained why permanent protections for this magical place are so important. The Arkansas River, which forms the western edge of the Browns Canyon wilderness proposal, provides unparalleled whitewater and supports the largest concentration of rafting outfitters in Colorado. The rugged and nearly inaccessible mountains to the east of the river support a vibrant wildlife population and provide a uniquely remote wilderness experience for visitors. The rafters took us to their favorite campsite on the river bank and we watched silently as a pair of ducks flew along the water’s surface and a heron shook the snow from his feathers.

On our way back to the cars, the snow stopped falling and the clouds began to lift. By the time we returned to the trailhead, the sun was gleaming off the pristine white peaks of the Collegiate Range across the valley. As he regarded those peaks with awe, Senator Udall emptied his jacket pockets of a few pieces of litter he had collected along the trail. “Wow,” I said to myself, “he really cares about this place.”

For more information on Senator Udall’s Browns Canyon Wilderness proposal, and to lend your support to this proposal, please visit http://www.markudall.senate.gov.

Sarah Pizzo is the Public Lands and Tribal Lands Stewardship Intern at the National Wildlife Federation’s Rocky Mountain Regional Center in Boulder, Colo. She earned her law degree from the University Colorado-Boulder in 2011.