Does a wilderness bill include a driveway?

  Colorado Republican Sen. Wayne Allard hopes that a new wilderness bill will sail through Congress this year. But wilderness advocates have a big bone of contention: a road into the area that Allard wants to keep open.

The Spanish Peaks Wilderness bill would designate 18,000 acres of wilderness in San Isabel National Forest, located on the southeastern lip of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. But the bill would allow the Forest Service to keep open a road that runs a mile and a half into the center of the area. A vein of unprotected land, called a "cherry stem" by the Forest Service, would line the road, which leads high up on the side of West Spanish Peak to the abandoned Bullseye silver mine, owned by developer Tom Chapman and his business partners.

"The local community came to us and said, "We would like to have that road cherry-stemmed," "''''says Sean Conway, Allard's press secretary. "The road has been used by locals for generations for Sunday afternoon drives and picnics."

Critics contend the cherry stem is a sweetheart deal for Chapman, who is known for buying wilderness inholdings and threatening to develop them unless federal agencies buy him out (HCN, 2/16/98). "There is no practical use, demand, or really logic to cherry-stemming that road all the way up to the mine," says Jeff Widen of the Colorado Environmental Coalition. "That would really be an arrow in the heart of the Spanish Peaks Wilderness."

Conway insists that Chapman's mining claims have nothing to do with the cherry stem. "Sen. Allard would never do anything to try to help Mr. Chapman," he says. "In our mind, he has used inholdings to extort taxpayers' money."

* Adam Burke and Greg Hanscom
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