North Independent & Hunter - 7,530 acres (11.6 square miles)
North Independent: 5230 acres (8.0 square miles) | Hunter: 2,300 acres (3.6 square miles)
These proposed additions to the Hunter Fryingpan Wilderness mostly occupy the northwestern portion of the massive, hulking plateau of Smuggler Mountain. The Hunter area is situated on the Hunter Creek side of this plateau and features gently rolling spruce/fir forest mixed with lodgepole and aspen that drops steeply north to Hunter Creek where it transitions to continuous aspen forest. The North Independent parcel is situated on the Roaring Fork side of the plateau and consists of a broad shield of gently sloping forest that plunges steeply 1,500 feet down to the Roaring Fork River. Minor creeks inhabit the surface, but do not form deep drainages. The proposed North Independent Wilderness Addition also occupies the long strip of very steep south-facing hillside that looms above the Roaring Fork and below the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness boundary.âï¿½¨âï¿½¨
What's special about them?
The eastern half of the proposed North Independent Addition is largely important as a buffer that lessens the impact of heavily developed areas upon adjacent Wilderness Areas. The very steep terrain of these areas prohibits motorized recreation or development.
The portions of these units that are on Smuggler Mountain are valuable as large areas of continuous forest. Wildlife are drawn to the ancient peat bogs or fens of Warren Lakes, and travel through these units extensively. Big game are present in the summer. The Benedict Huts of the 10th Mountain Hut Association are at Warren Lakes just outside the proposed Wilderness boundary, and are a popular winter destination for backcountry skiers. Warren Lakes receives most of its traffic during the hunting season, and otherwise is generally a very quiet place. Recently it has been recognized for its unique peat bog ecosystem. The dark timber south of Warren Lakes road is important winter range for elk, providing thermal cover and security. The transition zone between the dark timber and warmer, drier south facing aspen and mountain shrub-lands provides calving grounds adjacent to high quality browsing areas.
Illegal motorized use periodically occurs off of the Smuggler Mountain Road. A recent 'bogging' incident left nearly permanent scars across a beautiful sub-alpine wetland (fortunately the perpetrator was apprehended, convicted, and sentenced). Bandit mountain bike trails perforate the formerly secure habitat. The Smuggler Mountain area has the potential to be a timber-harvesting area, and there is also potential for mineral extraction in the North Independent unit.
Division of Wildlife habitat qualities, species of significance - Hunter
Hunter is a small area, which lies adjacent to the Hunter Frying Pan Wilderness Area, Warren Lakes peat bogs, and Hunter Creek. It consists mainly of spruce-fir with some wet seeps and steep north facing slopes above Hunter Creek. It provides summer range habitat for mule deer, elk, and black bear. Small game species such as blue grouse and snowshoe hare also occupy the area. It lies above Colorado River cutthroat trout habitat in Hunter Creek. Due to the steep nature of the area, there is only one foot and horseback trail that crosses it. This trail receives heavy use during summer and fall.
CDOW management recommendations: This area should remain roadless with no new trail or road construction.
Division of Wildlife habitat qualities, species of significance - North Independent
North Independent is a long and fairly narrow area, which lies adjacent to Hunter Creek, Warren Lakes peat bogs, Hunter Frying Pan Wilderness Area, and Highway 82. It consists of aspen, spruce-fir, and mountain shrub habitat types. It provides summer range for mule deer and elk, elk winter range, and has an elk migration corridor, which crosses it just east of Aspen. It also provides summer range and winter and fall concentration areas for black bear. Lynx have been utilizing some of the spruce-fir habitat above Highway 82 for winter foraging habitat. Colorado River cutthroat trout are found adjacent to the area in Hunter Creek.
The area contains several roads and trails in the northwest portion of the area in the Smuggler Mountain and Warren Lake area. There are some old roads and trails in this area, which have been closed by the USFS but are still seeing use by motorcycles, ATVs, and mountain bikes. These roads/trails need to be physically closed with increased enforcement of the closures. The USFS prescription for much of this area is inclusion into the adjacent wilderness area.
CDOW management recommendations: This area should remain roadless with the existing roads and trails in the northwest portion of the area remaining open in order to concentrate disturbance in this highly used area. No new roads or trails should be constructed. This area supports a variety of wildlife including lynx. The higher elevations of this area should remain roadless in order to protect the alpine tundra habitat. It is a fragile ecosystem that takes generations to recover from any disturbance.
Modifications to the boundaries of these two areas include adjustments for mountain biking, highway maintenance needs, treatment of an old fire-prone tree plantation and significant adjustments along Highway 82 at the request of the Roaring Fork Climber’s Coalition. See Table of Adjustments for details.
How to get there
The proposed North Independent and Hunter Wilderness Additions are located immediately east and southeast of Aspen.
- The access road for both proposal areas is the Smuggler Mountain Road (FS 131; 4WD) that climbs the steep hill east of Aspen. This road ascends Smuggler Mountain and ends at the Warren Lakes. It separates the two units. There are no maintained trails in either area, although there is an illegal single-track that mountain bikers occasionally descend through the proposed North Independent area. It branches off of FS131 about a half mile below Warren Lakes and stays west of the road.
- The USGS 7 1⁄2' quads for these roadless areas are Aspen, Hayden Peak, Thimble Rock, and New York Peak.
In addition to acreage recognized by the USFS, conservation groups have identified 4,501 more acres of roadless are associated with these units.