February 2013-Colorado's Browns Canyon

Feb 25, 2013
When EcoFlight visited Salida, Colorado and invited community members to fly with them over the Browns Canyon Wilderness Study Area, filmmaker Sam Bricker rode along. He shot a few video clips with EcoFlight, but after the flight simply filed most of the clips away on his hard drive and didn't know when he'd have a chance to use them.

Opportunity came knocking later that year when the Friends of Browns Canyon and The Wilderness Society commissioned Bricker to make a film to show people the beauty of Browns Canyon. He partnered with filmmaker Nathan Ward and they created " The Spirit of Browns Canyon" in the autumn of 2012. The film includes clips from EcoFlight's pass over Browns Canyon and the footage helps to establish the location of the potential wilderness areas in the midst of Chaffe County's vast arid mountain landscape.

The film has already had a great impact in strengthening local support to protect the area. " Most people that live around here have never even set foot in Browns Canyon," explains Ward. " Access is a little challenging and honestly, people just don't know it's there. This has certainly kept it wild."

The Browns Canyon Wilderness Study Area encompasses 20,000 - plus acres between Salida and Buena Vista, Colorado. This study area contains the most popular stretch of whitewater in North America, and a pristine section of rocky canyon land, home to a wealth of wildlife including black bear, bighorn sheep, elk, bobcat, deer and mountain lion.

This is the first film about the area, and the first time that many Upper Arkansas River Valley locals have seen this natural treasure, even though it's just ten or so miles from downtown Salida as the crow flies.

"Being asked to make a film on Browns Canyon was a dream job for us," states Ward. "How many chances in life are we given an opportunity to work on a project in our own backyard that has the potential to protect a truly wild area?" Even though Ward is the author of the only hiking guidebook to the area around Salida and Buena Vista, he had never ventured into the heart of the Browns Canyon area before working on this film.

What he found convinced him completely that Browns Canyon needs to be protected. "One day I waded across the Arkansas River and hiked up one of the many drainages that cut down to the river. Within an hour I found myself in a wonderland of rock spires, 100 foot high towers and sheer-walled canyons. I never knew something like this existed near Salida." As he dug in deeper, he found caves with evidence of early settlers, rock domes split by gnarled pinyon pines and few signs of modern humans.

"Beyond the land near the river, which is very popular with rafters and fly fishers, I only saw one other set of human footprints," says Ward. He did, however, see one mountain lion. "One night I was running late, but trying to capture the sunset on the rock domes across the river and I came around a big boulder and the air was absolutely filled with musk smell. I spun around, looking everywhere for the cat, but the smell faded, I filmed the sunset and went home. But two nights later in the same place, I hiked out after dark, got in my truck and after driving less than a minute, a full-size cat ran right in front of me. She was beautiful."

In addition to making adventure films for television, Bricker and Ward, the co-founders of the Grit and Thistle Film Company, focus on creating short films for environmental and conservation organizations. "Film is one of the most effective ways to get the message out these days," explains Bricker. "We can take an area or conservation issue, craft a short film about the need to protect it, and deliver the film right into every household computer in the country. We can even deliver it to their smart phones. It's very effective and we are noticing the difference already in the local support for Browns Canyon. We use the media of the present and future to protect the age-old assets of the planet. It works."

Senator Mark Udall has been a long-time supporter of protecting the Browns Canyon area and is currently working on a bill that would protect Browns Canyon as a national monument. Udall's office has reported he will propose the bill in the next couple of months. When he does, please join his effort to protect Browns Canyon.