Do you know these 3 outdoor recreation gems? Here's why they need protection

A trail in Colorado's Hermosa Creek Watershed. 

Photo: TRAILSOURCE.COM, flickr.

Three public lands conservation bills now under consideration in the Senate would protect areas that offer great recreation opportunities.

A Senate Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee held hearings Nov. 20 on three locally-supported bills to secure cherished natural places in New Mexico, Colorado and California.

If approved, the new designations would offer these areas long-overdue protection (and chip away at the large backlog of public lands conservation bills awaiting action by Congress). Of course, parts of these areas would still be open to a wide range of outdoor recreation activities like hiking, biking and fishing.

Learn more about outdoor recreation on public lands.

Columbine Hondo (New Mexico)

Lobo peak, near the heart of the Columbine Hondo region. Photo: Over the Arroyo Gang, flickr.

What you can do there: Hunting, fishing, horseback riding, camping, hiking.

Just east of the Rio Grande, New Mexico's Columbine Hondo region is a roadless mountain sanctuary draped in fir, spruce and pine forest. In addition to its great beauty, it serves as a source of clean water for many local communities. Despite this, the area has been in limbo, waiting for permanent wilderness protection for more than 30 years.

Extending official wilderness designation to Columbine Hondo would not only help preserve the area in its own right--it would help bridge the gap between Wheeler Peak and Latir Peak Wilderness Areas along the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, protecting a wildlife corridor for elk, deer, mountain lions, black bears, bighorn sheep and other animals. This would only further fortify a tract of land that provides some of the best hunting and fishing habitat in northern New Mexico.

Hermosa Creek Watershed (Colorado)

A bike trail near Hermosa Creek. The Hermosa Creek Special Management Area would allow mountain biking. Photo: Michel Juhasz, flickr.

What you can do there: Biking, hunting, fishing, rock climbing, hiking, horseback riding.

Southwest Colorado’s Hermosa Creek Watershed contains 17 distinct ecosystems, one gauge of its great value as a natural space. It also encompasses the largest unprotected roadless area in the Southern Rocky Mountains, and major elk and deer habitat have helped make this piece of the San Juan National Forest a cause celebre for sportsmen and wildlife watchers.

The proposed wilderness area itself is a crescent of land thick with old growth ponderosa pine immediately to the west of Hermosa Creek. Its rocky stretches are popular among climbers and hikers. Under this plan, that area would be abutted by thousands of acres of Special Management Area, some of which will allow mountain biking and trail-bound motorized recreation like snowmobiling. The greater watershed area is a wildly popular space for such activities due to its gorgeous, rolling meadows and trails winding alongside sheer boulders and rock walls. 

Berryessa Snow Mountain (California)

Fishing in Cache Creek, which runs through part of the proposed Berryessa Snow Mountain National Conservation Area. Photo: Greg Miller, flickr.

What you can do there: Fishing, hiking, camping, rafting, birding, hunting, horseback riding.

If established, Berryessa Snow Mountain National Conservation Area would stretch from south of Cedar Rough Wilderness, near Putah Creek, northwest to Snow Mountain Wilderness, stitching together many patches of public land in California’s interior Coastal Range and providing habitat for wildlife including black bears, elk, bald eagles, badgers, river otters and beavers.

The National Conservation Area designation will still allow traditional uses of the land for ranchers and farmers but also preserve opportunities for outdoor recreation. Among the most popular such activities in the region is fishing, and for good reason: its clear streams are crowded with rainbow trout and dozens of lakes and ponds host warm water fisheries. No new regulations would be imposed on fishing under this designation.