July 20, 2010
An Overview of the Alpine Triangle
By Anthony Licata
In the high-country heart of southwest Colorado’s San Juan Mountains rests 180,000 acres of alpine habitat that has sheltered some of the best big game hunting and wild trout fishing in the southern Rockies for thousands of years.
The Alpine Triangle, named because it rests between three communities at it’s “corners”—Lake City, Ouray and Silverton—is a rare stretch of Bureau of Land Management real estate in the heart of traditional “forest” country. Not only does it shelter outstanding wild and native trout habitat, and prime big-game habitat for mule deer, elk and especially bighorn sheep, it’s home to a unique cultural heritage that is truly “old Colorado.”
Literally thousands of abandoned mines and old mining ghost towns dot the landscape, making it possible for visitors on foot or on motorized vehicle to catch a glimpse what Colorado was like over a century ago. The area is a recreational paradise, offering opportunities for motorized and nonmotorized access to some of the most scenic country in the West for hiking, fishing and hunting.
Our efforts on the Triangle are simple—we’d like to keep it just like it is. We’d like to cement in place the existing motorized access points and trails, and protect some of this world-class habitat that’s already managed as de facto wilderness today under the BLM wilderness study program as permanent wilderness. The fact that not much would change should we successfully create the Alpine Triangle National Conservation Area isn’t lost on sportsmen and women—the status quo, in this case, is the best management plan.
Unfortunately, the area isn’t without a threat—with mineral prices at record highs, there could be some interest in revisiting some of the mining practices in this area that historically hindered water quality downstream for many miles. Given that the Triangle is the source of the Lake Fork of the Gunnison, the Uncompahgre, and the Animas rivers, new mining activity would not only tarnish the fishing and hunting resources of the Triangle, but likely damage vital downstream water resources. Damage that’s taken a century to heal (and there are streams within the area that require more treatment to even host fish populations) could be replicated all over again.
Protecting this unique area as a National Conservation Area would prohibit new mining activity and protect, in perpetuity, the historical recreational uses this area is known for.
What’s in the Alpine Triangle
Fishing assets: Native Colorado River cutthroat trout, brown trout, brook trout, rainbow trout.
Hunting assets: Elk, deer, ruffed grouse, blue grouse, bighorn sheep.
Other: A reminder of a time gone by—thousands of abandoned mines dot the mountains and accessible ghost towns are within easy reach of those visiting.
Threats: The threat of new hard-rock mining in this area is very concerning, especially since the antiquated 1872 Mining Act is still in place. Henson Creek as it runs off Engineer Pass.