We have adjusted our Thompson Creek wilderness proposal; we have postponed wilderness designation of a portion of the proposal (North Thompson, Middle Thompson, South Branch of Middle Thompson Creek and Coal Basin). Other parts of the proposal area are still being actively pursued as wilderness this year. These portions of the Thompson Creek proposal are now depicted as part of the Assignation Ridge proposal area and Hayes Creek Proposal Areas.
We will continue working with our partners to seek lasting protection for the entirety of this important and ecologically rich landscape. Click here for a press release describing our decision to remove the area and the endorsement by Carbondale ranchers of nearby wilderness lands. The map at right shows the area removed from our current wilderness proposal in red.
The Thompson Creek area contains 32,151 acres (50.2 square miles). It is one of four contiguous roadless areas (the others being Clear Fork, Hayes Creek and East Willow) that together comprise the proposed Clear Fork Divide Wilderness, which at 110,000 acres is the largest new wilderness area in the Hidden Gems proposal.
The Thompson Creek section of the Clear Fork Divide Roadless Complex occupies a large part of the Thompson Creek drainage. It has three major forks that drain a broad and gently rolling divide that separates the Divide Creek and Roaring Fork watersheds. Elevation in this unit climbs from 8,100 feet on Middle Thompson Creek, to 11,500 feet on the divide above South Thompson Creek. The hills are coated in a vast spruce/fir forest, although there are some impressively large stands of aspen and mountain shrublands at lower elevations. Large park-like meadows and areas of high wetlands also characterize the area.
What's special about it?
The Thompson Creek section of the Clear Fork Divide Roadless Complex is part of a larger network of roadless land that occupies a mid-elevation swath of forested highlands that connect the Elk Range to Grand and Battlement Mesas. In addition to the largest stand of old-growth spruce/fir forest on the White River National Forest, this Area contains part of what is thought to be the largest aspen forest in the world!
The area has been recognized by the Colorado Division of Wildlife as high priority habitat for a variety of species. The unit contains the Middle Thompson Creek Potential Conversation Area, proposed by the Colorado Natural Heritage Program, because of its significantly high biodiversity. This unit has some of the most important lynx habitat on the White River National Forest, and is also home to wild turkeys. The Colorado River cutthroat trout (recognized as a Species of Special Concern by the CDOW) is found in two forks of Thompson Creek. The streams also feature rare wetland shrub communities, and the old-growth forest is habitat for the boreal owl and northern goshawk. The entire area is important elk calving habitat and summer range for big game, and is thus important for hunters.
The gentle terrain and thick forests have historically made this an area attractive for timber extraction, as evidenced by the web of old roads around the area. The large, valuable old spruce trees in the Area are always coveted by the timber industry and it is reasonable to foresee a time when attempts will be made to log them.
However, the gravest threat to the Thompson Creek section is posed by oil and gas development. Most of the area was leased in 2001 and 2003, with a set of parcels auctioned off in 2004 still pending due to conservationists' challenges to them. As the Piceance Basin natural gas boom depletes the more easily accessed and profitable lower elevations, demand for developing these higher-elevation, steep-sloped areas like the Thompson Creek roadless area will increase. The network of well pads, roads, pipelines and industrial truck traffic will forever despoil what is considered the Town of Carbondale's scenic backyard and part of its domestic water supply.
The Area is also part of the North Thompson Cattlemen's Association (NTCA) pooled allotments. The industrial fragmenting that would accompany natural gas development in the Area would wreck havoc on the NTCA's ability to manage its herds properly. Ranches on the nearby Roaring Fork valley floor already face a number of tremendous challenges to their economic security and the impacts of natural gas development here could be the last straw for some of these ranches. Their loss would eliminate important winter habitat for the signature elk herds of the area, significantly reducing hunting opportunities on public lands.
How to get there
The Thompson Creek section of the proposed Clear Fork Divide Wilderness Area is located 8 miles SW of Carbondale and 5 miles NW of Redstone, although access is best from Glenwood Springs.
- From Glenwood Springs, take Garfield County Road 117 to Sunlight Ski Area. The road becomes Thompson Creek Road (FS 300), and provides the main access to the Thompson Creek area. Stay on this road to reach Middle Thompson Park. From here hike down Middle Thompson Creek (1950), or climb up to Stony Ridge on your left and hike along its crest. From the road closure south of Middle Thompson Park, hike up closed long abandoned roads to a giant high meadow at 10,900 feet. From there you can pick up trails leading into South Thompson Creek (1951) or into Clear Fork Basin on the Gunnison NF. Trails can be faint here, so stay oriented.
- From Carbondale, access to Middle Thompson and South Thompson Creek Trails, is from South Branch Thompson Creek Road (FS 306). To get there, take Garfield County Road 108 to the Spring Gulch area and bear left onto FS 305. FS 306 will branch to your left.
- The USGS 7 1⁄2' quads for Thompson Creek RA are Quaker Mesa, Stony Ridge, and Placita, with a small amount on Elk Knob.
There are three active cattle allotments in this unit, and you will see fences and stock ponds. In addition to roadless acreage considered by the USFS here, conservation groups have identified 12,718 more roadless acres associated with the Thompson Creek RA. This unit is part of a larger complex of contiguous Roadless Areas (Assignation Ridge, Hayes Creek, East Willow, and Clear Fork) that together occupy nearly 122,000 acres (187 square miles) of mid-elevation land - the largest unprotected roadless complex in the state.