I live, guide and run river shuttles along the Colorado River. It has been an intimate part of my life for 35 years. Colorado’s population has more than doubled in that time, but the “Lower Upper” Colorado River corridor, between McCoy and Dotsero, has changed very little. It sees more river traffic than it used to, but manages to maintain its rural character and timeless beauty.
On a drive, float or bike ride along its 34-mile length, one can see snowcapped mountains, working ranches and ancient red rock formations. It’s the homeland of elk, eagles, ospreys, deer, bears, bighorn sheep and, of course, trout.The gateway to this area is Dotsero. Travelling north on the Colorado River Road, the world changes quickly from the noisy interstate corridor to a very different reality and two things happen. Cell phone coverage ends for 40 miles, and you are treated to a sweeping view of the Colorado River Valley, framed by the Flat Tops. The proposed mine would be right in the middle of that bucolic image. While it might be possible to shield some mine operations from the river, it will be in plain view of this scenic byway.
For many years, ranchers, recreationists and homeowners have lived along the river valley in relative harmony. The folks who live and play here may have different backgrounds and beliefs, but whether they drive a Subaru or a Suburban, most share a common value, which is to preserve and protect this very special place. Some of the ranch families here are into their fifth generation, and as such, take the long view. People who come here to camp, fish and hunt love to pass that love onto their kids, too. I’ve guided folks who were kids when they first came, and now bring their own childrenConsidering the outdoor recreation and agricultural value of this area, putting an industrial site at its gateway makes no sense. It will permanently alter the landscape while benefiting very few.
A gravel pit is an extractive, mechanized operation which can only detract from the landscape. As a river landowner myself, I’m inclined to let people do what they want with their property. But I don’t “own” the river any more than I own the birds, wildlife or fish who live here. Well-managed ranching and recreation activities don’t really impact the landscape too much, but mining at an industrial scale is different, and would seem to cross some sort of line.
A similar project with an associated asphalt plant was proposed a few years ago. The current proposal being reviewed now by the county promises a lower impact, but it’s hard to imagine how if the whole point of the operation is to take away parts of the Lower Upper Colorado River, one truckload at a time.
Jack Bombardier is a local river guide who was named Exemplary Guide And Outfitter Of The Year for 2015 by Colorado Trout Unlimited.