GILPIN COUNTY, Colo., Sept. 18, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Little Echo Lake, one of the most spectacular high alpine lakes in Colorado, is now owned by the public. So is the trail across it that is now legal access to the James Peak Wilderness and the Continental Divide Trail. The Wilderness Land Trust, Colorado Conservation Trust, and United States Forest Service worked in partnership for four years to acquire the glacial lake and surrounding 318 acres for the James Peak Wilderness, a 14,000-acre alpine wonderland in the heart of the central Rockies that surrounds the parcel. The Wilderness Land Trust will work with Congress to add the land to the federal wilderness area.
"Private ownership meant that Little Echo Lake was legally off limits to the public," explained David Kirk, The Wilderness Land Trust's senior lands specialist who negotiated the purchase. "For the first time the public will be able to reach the James Peak Wilderness via Little Echo Lake and connect to hundreds of miles of trails, lakes and peaks along the Continental Divide, including 13,000-foot James Peak, the sentinel peak of the wilderness," he said. "Hikers, backpackers, skiers, equestrians and anglers will be very pleased with this new public land and trail access."
The acquisition includes Little Echo Lake, riparian areas along Mammoth Gulch, and a broad ridge extending from James Peak that frames the scenic valley. The property had been left out of the James Peak Wilderness when the wilderness was designated in 2002 because it was privately held. The United States Forest Service was able to acquire the property with an appropriation from the Land and Water Conservation Fund supported by Colorado's congressional delegation.
"Protecting our public lands helps drive Colorado's booming outdoor recreation economy, which is why I have worked with stakeholders over the years to protect special places like the James Peak Wilderness Area and support programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund," Senator Mark Udall said. "Little Echo Lake near the James Peak Wilderness is a prime example of land critical for wildlife habitat, watershed protection and recreational access. The Land and Water Conservation Fund was created for places just like this, and I'm excited to see Little Echo Lake protected using this important tool so that future generations of Coloradans can enjoy its alpine beauty."
Many privately owned parcels, called "inholdings" remain within the federal Wilderness System. Many face possible development for vacation homes, resorts, mining, logging and energy development. Such development fragments the surrounding wilderness and often blocks access to trails, lands and vistas intended for public use.
Representative Jared Polis has worked hard to protect the James Peak Wilderness. "Colorado's natural heritage is what makes our great state so special, which is why I was pleased to support the Little Echo Lake purchase. I will work with our delegation to see that it is added to the James Peak wilderness so that it is preserved for all future generations to enjoy," said Congressman Polis.
Since 1992, The Wilderness Land Trust has worked throughout the West to buy "inholdings" from willing sellers. It ultimately conveys ownership to federal land agencies to ensure the land will be permanently protected for the American public. The Little Echo Lake parcel will now be managed by the Arapahoe-Roosevelt National Forest.
"I'm excited by the opportunity to add such an awe inspiring area as Little Echo Lake to the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and have it available for public access," said Boulder District Ranger Sylvia Clark. "Having Little Echo Lake as public land will improve the management of the James Peak Wilderness by alleviating any issues with private inholdings adjacent to the Wilderness Area. We are looking forward to when it is can be added to the Wilderness Area."
Funding from Colorado Conservation Trust, a nonprofit organization working to conserve Colorado's exceptional places, was critical to the acquisition.
"CCT and our partners were pleased to be a part of a project that will protect this exceptional landscape forever," said Brian Ross, the organization's Executive Director. "Thanks to the Wilderness Land Trust's diligence and determination, the public can now enjoy this spectacular area and appreciate a part of what makes Colorado so special."
SOURCE The Wilderness Land Trust