I’m submitting this letter on behalf of the Access Fund, and as an individual and personal comment on the proposed uranium mill in Paradox Valley. I have resided in Telluride for the last 23 years, and for four years previous to that I resided in Grand Junction, where I served as Assistant Mesa County Attorney.
As a current board member and longterm Southwest Colorado Regional Coordinator for the Access Fund, a national grassroots organization dedicated to conservation, stewardship and advocacy for climbing resources, I wish to make you aware of the tremendous and outstanding rock-climbing opportunities in the Paradox Valley. These are opportunities that will never be fully realized if the uranium mill becomes a reality.
Since 1991, the Access Fund has been the national advocacy organization that keeps climbing areas open and conserves the climbing environment. The Access Fund supports and represents over 1.6 million climbers nationwide in all forms of climbing: rock climbing, ice climbing, mountaineering, and bouldering. Five core programs support the mission on national and local levels: climbing management policy, stewardship and conservation, local support and mobilization, land acquisition and protection, and education. For more information visit www.accessfund.org.
Paradox Valley has extensive cliffs of fantastic Wingate and other sandstone formations. Similar Wingate cliffs have attracted an international following in Indian Creek between Monticello and Moab, Utah. The cliffs in Paradox Valley are larger, more remote, and currently have few if any restrictions on camping or access, unlike Indian Creek. Paradox Valley in many ways resembles Indian Creek in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, when climbers enjoyed extraordinary freedom before their impacts became a concern.
Paradox Valley is closer to Colorado population centers than Utah, and could potentially host several thousand climbing routes. Other cliffs in the Paradox are known as Little Red Rocks, after the internationally famous climbing area west of Las Vegas. Several hundred routes in the Paradox Valley already exist and some are documented in the book, The Wild Wild West by D. Johnston and C. Fowler. Information on this book is available at http://mountainworldmedia.com/
I enclose for your information a photograph that was taken by the late Charlie Fowler, a long-term resident of Norwood and one of North America’s foremost climbers and mountaineers over the last several decades. It is a picture of Damon Johnston climbing a moderately difficult crack called “Cowboy Up,” which is located on the Carpenter Ridge along the north and west side of the Paradox. I am sure you can appreciate the tremendous scenery and sense of seclusion and adventure offered by this classic climb. When this shot was taken, we were alone. Several years later I’ve met numerous parties at the base or who have done the route or who aspire to climb it.
In the long term, recreational activity including climbing can become a source of economic development in the Paradox Valley and the west end of Montrose San Miguel and Dolores Counties, through campgrounds, bed and breakfasts, and tourist accommodations. This activity will never flourish if a uranium mill is permitted in the Paradox. A uranium mill will stigmatize not only the Paradox Valley, but other regional recreational areas as well due to concerns over pollution and traffic safety.
Please consider deferring your decision until after state Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment applications are filed, when until the true outlines of the proposal are known. Please take advantage of the technical assistance funds that will become available, and study the true economic upsides and downsides of uranium mill operation. The Access Fund and I urge you to focus on the long term, and not the short term, in making your important decision.