Assignation Ridge - 21,193 acres (33.1 square miles)
The proposed Assignation Ridge Wilderness consists of two contiguous roadless areas, the Forest Service-managed Assignation Ridge and a BLM parcel the agency calls Thompson Creek.
Assignation Ridge and four other contiguous roadless areas: Hayes Creek, East Willow, Thompson Creek and Clear Fork – together form a sprawling 94,300 acre roadless complex known as the Clear Fork Divide. At this time Assignation Ridge and a small portion of the Hayes Creek area are the only places that can sustain a wilderness designation. Designating them as wilderness is especially important, as it would create an initial core of protection while we pursue other possibilities to ensure future protection for the entirety of this ecologically critical landscape.
Thompson Creek Roadless Area (BLM) - 8,010 acres (12.5 square miles).
Elevation in this area ranges between 6,600 and 10,700 feet. Thompson Creek Canyon is reminiscent of a western slope "Garden of the Gods," containing geologic strata and vertical faulted hogbacks geologically identical to the formation near Colorado Springs. The area also includes an outpouring of gypsum that formed the epicenter for a number of minor earthquakes in the Carbondale area a few years ago.
Thompson Creek itself is a beautiful stream with undisturbed woods ranging from cottonwoods and ponderosa pine to scrub oak, pinion, juniper, Douglas fir, and aspen. The forests provide a haven for wildlife including elk, bear, mountain lion, wild turkey, and small game, as well as the ever-present deer. Once plentiful in the Crystal and Roaring Fork River valleys, ponderosa pines can now only be found in a few spots and the canyon along the main stem of Thompson Creek hosts a number of few healthy individuals and dispersed stands of this magnificent and fragrant species.
What's special about it?
This unit's most distinctive feature is the lower Thompson Creek canyon, dominated by the Thompson Creek Fins, a grouping of thin vertical sandstone slabs that tower up to 60 feet high and are a local climbing spot. Seen from the ground, the Fins are as impressive as any red-rock marvel of the Utah desert; from the air, the whole feature looks like a small corner of Canyonlands accidentally dropped into the middle of a Colorado forest.
The lower canyon also contains leftovers of trestles and the long-abandoned grade of the Aspen and Western Railroad. The railway grade and the Thompson Creek streambed provide a scenic pathway for hikers and cross-country skiers. The BLM designated Thompson Creek an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). Thompson Creek has also been considered as a possible addition to the potential Wild and Scenic River designation of the Crystal River. The area also contains the Colorado National Heritage Program's Smith Gulch Potential Conservation Area and a small piece of the Middle Thompson Creek Potential Conservation Area.
Although no oil and gas development has occurred in Thompson Creek Canyon, parts of the surrounding region are leased for oil and gas. Some seismic activity has occurred just to the west of the unit. Future leasing of the canyon itself is restricted to No Surface Occupancy however, a NSO is only an administrative designation and is subject to political winds.
Some ORV use occurs in the middle section, with the only public motorized access via a severely eroded, unsustainable road that is dumping sediment into Thompson Creek and smothering native cutthroat trout habitat. Un-authorized trail construction to create bike trails has occurred in the Barber Gulch area in the northeastern quadrant of the unit and dirt-bikers have indicated a desire to turn the only relatively flat portion the area into a dirt-bike trail system.
How to get there
- From Highway 133 in Carbondale, turn west at Main Street, which quickly becomes Thompson Creek Road (CR 108) In approximately 7.4 miles, Forest Road 305 branches left. This road crosses Thompson Creek in another 2.4 miles, where a trailhead denotes the route downstream.
- From Highway 131 look for the Perham Creek Trail roughly 6 miles north of Redstone.
Assignation Ridge Roadless Area - 13,180 acres (20.6 square miles).
The proposed Assignation Ridge Wilderness Area sits on the divide between the Crystal River and South Thompson Creek. The bulk of the unit consists of rolling hills and craggy drainages covered in diverse plant communities. These include aspen, mountain shrubs, sagebrush, Gambel oak, Douglas fir, and pinion/juniper. The precipitous slopes near the eastern boundary of the unit display enormous red sandstone cliffs that tower over the Crystal River valley, and give the Town of Redstone its name. The elevation ranges from 6,700 feet at the Crystal River to 10,614 feet on the divide.
What's special about it?
Despite its proximity to the Town of Carbondale and the West Elk Scenic Byway along H133, the proposed Assignation Ridge Wilderness Areas is very much undisturbed, and retains a wild and natural quality. The area is well known for its large diversity of plant communities, with the heart of the area designated a Research Natural Area by the White River National Forest.
The Assignation Ridge Proposed Wilderness connects the Crystal River valley to the greater Clear Fork Divide, creating a critical big game migration corridor and providing a habitat linkage between the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness and the forested landscape corridor extending out to the Grand and Battlement Mesas. It also provides access to lower elevation winter range on BLM lands to the north that are proposed for Wilderness designation.
The Crystal River has been proposed to be Wild & Scenic River, and the Assignation Ridge area provides a significant scenic backdrop to this valley. Trails in the area are popular with hikers and horseback riders, and a moderate amount of elk hunters are present in the fall. This area is also known for its mountain lion and turkey hunting opportunities. There are also popular ice-climbing areas on the sandstone cliffs along the Crystal River.
The WRNF recommended this section of the proposed Wilderness Area for wilderness designation in the 2002 Revised Forest Plan and it is being managed to not impair its wilderness qualities until Congress acts on this recommendation. Until then, the area's Recommended Wilderness status could easily be changed to a zoning that allows ecologically damaging activities like natural gas development, timber harvest, or damaging off road vehicle use.
Potentially, the gravest threat to this landscape is natural gas development, which would forever ruin the wild character of the area. Illegal motorized uses are also becoming more widespread, threatening to significantly fragment and degrade the ecology of the area. Mountain bikers are increasingly pioneering trails into previously secure habitat; disregarding restrictions against such bandit trail development.
Division of Wildlife habitat qualities, species of significance
This area is a large section of relatively undisturbed habitat. The area serves as elk and mule deer summer range, elk summer concentration, elk and mule deer winter range, severe winter range and winter concentration area, elk production area, black bear summer range and fall concentration area, bald eagle winter foraging area, turkey overall range, as well as habitat for a variety of avian and small mammal species. The area receives some hunting pressure for deer and elk, and hunters that venture away from the roads often achieve greater success than those in the surrounding areas.
CDOW management recommendations: This area should remain roadless with no new trails or road construction in order to protect its rich diversity of wildlife and habitat values including big game winter range.
Following a request by the Roaring Fork Mountain Biking Association we removed the Braderich Creek Trail along the area’s western boundary. Adjustments were made along highway 133 to allow for highway maintenance and the use of power drills for bolted climbing routes. Over 4,400 acres were removed at the request of the North Thompson Cattleman’s Association. See Table of Adjustments for details.
How to get there
Assignation Ridge RA is located 6 miles south of Carbondale, and just NW of Redstone.
- From Carbondale take State Highway (SH) 133 to the south. The Perham Creek Trail begins on the west side of the highway about 3 miles south of the forest boundary. This trail crosses Assignation Ridge to South Thompson Creek.
- From Redstone, turn west on FS 307 toward Coal Basin. About 3 miles up this road is the Braderich Creek trailhead (1952) on the right. This trail goes north to South Thompson Creek, and is the western boundary of the unit.
- The USGS 7 1/2' quads for Assignation Ridge RA are Stony Ridge, Mount Sopris, Placita, and Redstone.
There are two active cattle allotments in the unit. The Assignation Ridge RA is contiguous with an 8,148 acre roadless section of BLM lands to the north, near Carbondale. In addition, conservation groups have identified 4,398 more acres of roadless area adjacent to the SW portion of the unit, acerage left out of the USFS' recommended - the Forest Service inappropriately declared lands west of the Braderich Creek Trail as incapable of wilderness designation due to mountain bike usage of the trail. The total size of this roadless complex is 25,812 acres (40.3 square miles).