The Dolores River & Black Canyon of Gunnison
Issues: National Parks, Watersheds, Wild Lands
Airport Origin : Grand Junction, CO
Photograph the Gunnison Gorge for publication to spread awareness about the threats to the Dolores River and the proposed NCA designation. During the overflight, we also discovered snowmobile tracks in the Wilderness areas, where motorized travel is prohibited. Photos were provided to the US Forest Service to utilize in the prosecution of this illegal activity and the efforts to protect our Wilderness and the sensitive species who rely on its intact, serene nature.
The overflight examined Western Colorado’s Dolores River canyon country, an incomparable landscape of canyons and mesas surrounding the iconic Dolores River. We flew Black Canyon in Gunnison National Park, a stretch of striking 2,000 foot vertical cliffs and world-renowned fishing and rafting. This remote area of the Western Slope is one of the most important concentrations of biodiversity and wilderness-quality public lands in the nation. The region is part of the homeland of the Ute people, and includes many cultural sites and sacred areas. However, the Lower Dolores River and surrounding canyon country are threatened. Increased interest in uranium mining has sparked concerns that new development could reopen a toxic legacy; scars already dot this landscape. New mining activity would threaten to industrialize and pollute these wildlands, and would raise health and environmental justice concerns for Indigenous communities living near the sole remaining uranium ore processing mill.
Sen. Michael Bennet has introduced legislation to protect 68,000 acres surrounding the Lower Dolores in Southwest Colorado as a National Conservation Area (NCA). This designation would be a benefit to Montezuma, Dolores, and San Miguel counties. This bill is a critical first step to protecting an important stretch of the Dolores River and its surrounding public lands, but the job of protecting the greater Dolores region will not be complete.
Conservationists and stakeholders are coming together to find solutions to protect the whole Lower Dolores River country, from McPhee Dam to the Utah state line. There have been previous efforts to develop a NCA proposal for Dolores country in the region around Gateway, so it is not a new idea. But with new threats like mining and huge increases in recreation, the time is now to permanently conserve the Dolores River canyon country.