Ophir Valley Mining Claims Protected

July 1, 2014

After a twelve-year effort, 1,145 acres of pristine forestland are now part of Uncompahgre National Forest in Ophir Valley—forever protecting wildlife habitat, water quality, and an unbroken landscape for the public to hike and explore, The Trust for Public Land announced today.

In 2002, The Trust for Public Land first entered into discussions with the previous landowner regarding the conservation of these lands. There was strong local support for the protection of the Ophir Valley from "backcountry sprawl"—the development of cabins and second homes that can damage the wildlife, water, recreational, and scenic values of Colorado's wildlands. The Trust for Public Land eventually purchased the mining claims in 2009 to ensure their protection while the Forest Service sought appropriations from Congress.

The acquisition of the seventh and final phase of the Ophir Valley project this month marks the culmination of a land protection effort lasting over a decade.

"The breathtaking beauty of the Ophir Valley is a magnet for outdoor enthusiasts and we must safeguard the land to ensure access to this majestic area," said Tim Wohlgenant, Colorado State Director for The Trust for Public Land.

Funding over the many years of this effort came from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the federal government's premier program for protecting land around the nation, which uses revenues from offshore drilling. The Colorado congressional delegation has supported federal funding for this project from the start.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., joined The Trust for Public Land, U.S Forest Service, San Miguel County, and the town of Ophir on a hike through the claims and to reflect on the importance of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is turning 50 this year.

"The Ophir Valley offers some of the most magnificent scenery our state has to offer," Bennet said. "Conservation of these lands is important not only to the local tourism economy, but also to the preservation of water and other natural resources. Thanks to the hard work of the local communities and their partners in this effort, future generations of Coloradans will have the opportunity to enjoy this beautiful valley as it is today."

"Colorado's public lands and wilderness support rural jobs and our outdoor recreation economy, and this land in the Ophir Valley is no exception," said U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo. "I'm leading the effort in Congress to fully support the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which made the Ophir Valley project a reality. This project is exactly what was envisioned when the fund was created fifty years ago. It preserves our clean water, pristine wildlife habitat, and public access for hunting, fishing, climbing and other recreational activities that are essential to Coloradans' special way of life.

"We're thrilled to acquire these lands for the benefit of the American people. Fragmented landownership patterns make it difficult to protect the breath-taking scenery, recreational access, watersheds, and wildlife that are so important here. I want to thank The Trust for Public Land, the citizens of the Ophir Valley, and the staff of the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest for their support and commitment to helping us acquire these precious lands as part of the National Forest System," said Maribeth Gustafson, Deputy Regional Forester, Rocky Mountain Region, US Forest Service.

The Ophir Valley offers an abundance of recreational opportunities for residents and visitors. Hiking, camping, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, four-wheeling, and fishing are all popular. Such activities are increasingly important to the local and state economies. The Outdoor Industry Association recently reported that outdoor recreation annually contributes $13.2 billion to Colorado's economy, directly supporting 124,600 jobs.

"The Ophir Valley is not only very special, but it's really important biologically," said Joan May, San Miguel County Commissioner. "To get these mining claims into public land ownership will protect important riparian areas, animal habitat and plants, as well as the rural nature of Ophir. It's taken over a dozen years so it's definitely time to celebrate."

"The Town of Ophir is very pleased that this project—a decade in the making—is complete. We are extremely grateful to The Trust for Public Land for its tenacity, leadership, and patience. This, along with our many other partners' efforts, resulted in protecting and making accessible irreplaceable open space in the Ophir Valley." Randy Barnes, Town Manager, Town of Ophir.

Conservation of these lands also protects the headwaters of Howard Fork, which flows into the San Miguel River. It preserves wildlife habitat for rare wildlife species that exist in the alpine and sub-alpine environments in and around the Ophir Valley.

The Ophir Valley is located close to the San Juan Skyway, a national scenic byway that draws visitors to this part of Colorado from all over the world.

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