Hayes Creek - 6,170 acres (9.6 square miles)
Hayes Creek and four other contiguous roadless areas: Assignation Ridge, Thompson Creek, East Willow 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 portion of the Hayes Creek roadless area (our wilderness proposal 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.
The proposed Hayes Creek Wilderness Area is at the southern end of a mid-elevation mountainous ridge that runs from Chair Mountain in the Raggeds Wilderness north to Glenwood Springs where it merges into the Grand Hogback part of the geologically complex eastern edge of the Colorado Plateau. This geological juncture is also an ecological link between the Southern Rockies and the Plateau; Hayes Creek, small as it is in acreage, is the keystone in this wild connection between the existing Maroon Bells and Raggeds Wilderness Areas and the Clear Fork, East Willow, Thompson Creek and Assignation Ridge roadless areas that reach deeper into the plateau country and connect the spine of the Rockies to the Grand and Battlement Mesas. All together they form a connected wild area of over 122,000 acres. Ensuring an ecological connection between these rich low elevation lands to the west and the existing protected wilderness areas in the upper Roaring Fork Valley is one of the main goals of the White River Wilderness Coalition.
What's special about it?
In addition to its value as a wildlife corridor, Hayes Creek has seen little human incursion into its core due to the lack of trails and steep, mountainous hillsides flanking its east side. As such, it provides terrific wildlife security for species such as deer, elk, bear, and lynx.
Portions of land adjacent to the proposed Hayes Creek Wilderness Area have already been leased for oil and gas development and there are still undeveloped coal resources deep under Huntsman Ridge. The terribly eroded road traveling into the area from the top of McClure pass provides a launch point for damaging ORV use along Huntsman Ridge and down into the Hayes Creek basin itself. Traveling virtually straight up the fall line, the road is an erosive mess and a classic example of an unsustainable road that shouldn’t exist.
Adjustments along Highway 133 were made to accommodate highway maintenance needs, the use of power drills for bolted climbing routes and the route of a future bike path. Significant amounts of land were also removed due to existing oil and gas leases and at the requests of local ranchers.
Division of Wildlife habitat qualities, species of significance
Not inventoried by the Division of Wildlife.
How to get there
The proposed Hayes Creek Wilderness Area is located 16 miles south of Carbondale and just across the Crystal River south of Redstone. It is bounded on the east by Highway 133 between Redstone and the bottom of McClure Pass, on the north by the Forest Service Coal Creek Road 307 and the old Mine #4 Road 307.1C. On the west side it merges with the 59,395-acre Clear Fork Roadless Area on the Gunnison National Forest.
The most popular and scenic access to the area is via Forest Service Huntsman Ridge Road 517, which begins on the north side of Highway 133 just 2 tenths of a mile east of McClure Pass. Parking is available at the trailhead or on the south side of the highway at the top of the pass. The Huntsman Ridge Road is currently open to all modes of transportation in the summer, but to protect the route from further erosion and to fully enjoy the surrounding wild areas we recommend hiking it. The road is closed to motorized use in the winter, making Huntsman Ridge a local favorite for snowshoeing and telemarking.