An open letter from Aidan Sheahan: Save Thompson Divide

August 7th, 2013 by

It may not be Whistler, Tahoe, or Patagonia and it doesn’t show up on many postcards. But I find a small nook of Colorado backcountry just as endearing as other well-known skiing locations. The place is known as the Thompson Divide and I am proud to call it home, because it’s one of the last few sacred places that hold the heart of nature within it.

My home lies on the banks of the Crystal River at the base of the Thompson Divide. I swim and fish in the Crystal and draw my water from there. During the winter, we hike in for fresh lines among thousands of acres of unadulterated terrain in and around the Thompson Divide. The area is home to some of the largest aspen groves in the nation and these forests serve a vital role for elk calving season. It is one of the last fragments of landscape in Colorado to remain truly wild.

The Thompson Divide is more than just my home and my watershed. The Thompson Divide is a way of life for hundreds of Coloradans who rely on the land to maintain a livelihood. The Thompson Divide is a story about small business owners and outfitters. It’s about ranching families who’ve been in the Roaring Fork Valley for five generations who depend on the land to run cattle. This is a story about the countless Coloradans whose livelihoods depend upon the Thompson Divide staying the way it is.

Unfortunately, the area has been identified by the oil and gas industry for development. To me, and to this valley, it’s a domino effect. Once it hits here, where’s the end? The Maroon Bells? Aspen? I see it this way because if this completely pristine area becomes the standard area to drill, we will lose others places of beauty in the same way. We must draw the line somewhere.

Currently, a local group is charting a new path to protect this economically productive piece of land. The Thompson Divide Coalition, a broad-based coalition of ranchers, recreationalists, sportsmen, business owners and local governments, is working with existing leaseholders and U.S. Senator Michael Bennet to preserve the area for future generations to enjoy. Their collaborative approach is beginning to pay off.

Development in the Thompson Divide would be too costly to an already vibrant local economy. A local economy in which 300 jobs in rural Colorado rely on existing uses—recreation, hunting, fishing, and ranching—in the Divide.

Skiing has taught me to be mindful of my actions so that I can learn a new trick, ski a line, or whatever it may be in a way that is safe and sustainable for my own health and safety. Progressing and trying new things and at the same time doing it in a conscious way. This same relationship is present with our environment; progression without mindful attention can be destructive to nature and in the end ourselves. As John Muir states “Not blind opposition to progress, but opposition to blind progress…”

Speaking for my generation, we need to invest in renewables like solar and wind, eat locally, drive less, ride our bikes or the bus and, more importantly, invest in a happy, healthy relationship with our community. Small lifestyle changes make global impact. Also, by being mindful and aware of the issues, we can spread the knowledge to others. Being the change, we can shift the dependence on oil and actually use technology to live a life in balance with nature.

The Thompson Divide will always sit in the shadows of more famous, protected destinations. But it may not retain the same heart of nature as these postcard destinations if oil and gas has its way. It may not be as recognizable or well-known, but it deserves protection just as much.

-Aidan Sheahan

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