WILDERNESS PRESERVATION IN COLORADO
Andrew Glenn Kirk
B.A., University of Colorado, 1989
A thesis submitted to the
Faculty of the Graduate School of the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
This thesis for the Master of Arts
Andrew Glenn Kirk
has been approved for the
1992 by Andrew Glenn Kirk
All rights reserved.
Kirk, Andrew Glenn (M.A., History)
Conservationists and Wilderness Preservation in Colorado
Thesis directed by Professor Mark S. Foster
In the history of the American West and the state of Colorado few
issues have been as divisive as the wilderness preservation movement.
Federal conservation policies have been the object of vehement
opposition from many local politicians and the extractive industries. At
the same time there has been, and continues to be, a strong grass-roots
movement in support of the federal government's policies regarding
Colorado's wilderness areas.
Although conservation-minded Westerners have always met with
bitter opposition from Western mining, logging, and grazing industries,
they have survived and achieved phenomenal gains in preserving the true
"Wild" West--the wilderness. The state of Colorado represents an
excellent case study of the nature of grass-roots conservation advocacy
in the West. The tenacity and commitment of Colorado conservationists
has influenced federal land policy and helped to insure wilderness would
remain an asset for the future.
With over 13.8 million acres of Forest Service land within the
state, changes in policy have had a significant impact economically,
socially, and politically. The acceptance of wilderness policies in the
Colorado National Forests was a victory for the pro-conservation
Coloradans who had organized earlier in the century to protect and
redefine Colorado's natural resources. Wilderness in Colorado faced
major challenges in the twentieth century, but the slowly rising power of
pro-wilderness advocacy groups in the state bolstered the conservation
Increasingly populated, polluted, and stripped of once seemingly
endless natural resources, the West was forced to reevaluate its
relationship with the environment in the twentieth century. This
reevaluation was not universally accepted, and it met with sharp
resistance from those individuals, industries and communities who
depended on non-renewable resources for their economic stability.
Colorado conservationists carefully constructed a coalition of support to
help them overcome the anti-wilderness forces within the state. The
Coloradans involved in this process steadfastly stood by their beliefs in
the face of sometimes overwhelming opposition. Their persistent efforts
played a key role in assuring America's wilderness future.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the
candidate's thesis. I recommend its publication.
^ Mark S. Foster
During the research and writing of this thesis many people have
graciously contributed their time and expertise. The staff of the Denver
Public Library's Western History Department were very helpful. Lisa
Backman, the library's manuscript specialist was especially supportive.
Without her I could have been lost in the maze of the conservation library
collections. Todd Robertson and the staff of the Colorado Environmental
Coalition graciously allowed me access to their files. Lee Carr of the
U.S. Forest Service's Rocky Mountain Regional office lent me maps and
helped locate valuable Forest Service documents.
Hugh Kingery, Mrs. Edward Hilliard, Bill Mounsey, Former
Governor Richard D. Lamm, Roger Fuehrer, and Eric Finstick were all kind
enough to take time out of their busy schedules to talk with me in person
or on the phone. I appreciated their first hand views and comments.
Special thanks to Mike and Randee Bergen, tag-team editors. Over the
years they have lent me their valuable time and helped me more than
they know. Rick Clyne also kindly volunteered his editorial expertise.
And last, thanks to my patient friend Lisa Weatherman.
THE ROOTS OF THE MOVEMENT:
CONSERVATION IN COLORADO, 1876-1919 ............... 11
THE RYTHM OF THE PIONEER BLOOD:
ARTHUR CARHART AND THE
WILDERNESS CONCEPT IN COLORADO..................... 33
CONSERVATIONISTS WORK TOWARDS A
WILDERNESS FUTURE: COLORADO PRIMITIVE AREAS........ 53
A MOVEMENT IN TRANSITION: THE 1940s AND 1950s...... 72
AND THE FIGHT FOR WILDERNESS LAW................... 95
COLORADO: THE WILDERNESS ACT AND BEYOND ...........128
Wilderness has played a key role in American history. Native
American society was based on respect and worship of wild things and
wild places. Wilderness would also play a crucial role in shaping the lives
of Anglo settlers in North America. For early European settlers, the
wilderness and the forests were seen through a Calvinistic point of view.
The forest and the wilderness were dark evil places, places which were
to be stripped and opened as fast as possible. Until the late nineteenth
century, this is a view that would dominate in Anglo American culture.1
The writings of Henry David Thoreau in the 1850s would open the
door for reinterpretation of the nature and value of American
wilderness.2 One of the factors contributing to the reevaluation of
wilderness in America was the growing realization among a group of
Eastern writers and intellectuals that America's vast forests and wild
areas were beginning to disappear. Also highly influential in bringing
wilderness, especially Western wilderness, to the attention of the public
were the Romantic landscape painters of the Rocky Mountain School.3
Painters such as Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran brought
idealized visions of a Western natural utopia to the Eastern United States.
* Moran's stunning drawings and paintings of the Yellowstone area were
instrumental in gaining widespread support for a movement to create a
new "National Park" to preserve the incredible site from future
exploitation.4 In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed an act which
preserved over two million acres, now known as Yellowstone National
Park, in Wyoming. This act represented the first effort on behalf of the
federal government to protect the natural resources of the West.5
The most significant and influential early promoter of Western
wilderness preservation was John Muir, who has been described as
having had no equal in the publicizing of American wilderness.6 The
Sierra Club, which Muir helped found in 1892, would provide the basic
ideologies which formed the backbone of the twentieth-century
wilderness preservation movement. Muir's greatest ideological
contribution to the wilderness movement was his refusal to consider
conservation vis-a-vis economic considerations. Muir's concepts of
conservation of wilderness were based on aesthetic considerations. He
refused to yield his ideal to the commercial, managerial, and utilitarian
conservation ideology promoted by later conservationists.7
John Muir's simple doctrine of wilderness preservation would
eventually evolve into the wilderness movement of the 1900s.8 By the
1890s, the American wilderness, how it should be controlled, and by
whom had become critical issues which generated much controversy
and required many compromises before reaching a resolution in 1964
with the passage of the Wilderness Act. Much of the controversy
occurred in the state of Colorado. The wilderness preservation
movement in the Colorado national forests would spawn some of the
most unyielding adversaries and ardent supporters of wilderness.
On June 7, 1992, the Rocky Mountain News ran a front-page
story about America's public lands. "Recreation takes over from
extractive uses, and even compromise is politically correct," the headline
read.9 The article highlighted the many recreational uses of Colorado's
backcountry and cited statistics indicating that in Colorado the most
profitable and least destructive use of the public lands is recreation.
Although the upbeat nature of this article belies the still raging fires of
controversy when it comes to wilderness in Colorado, it does
demonstrate that the ideologies born in Colorado in the early years of the
century have become widely accepted by a new generation of more
environmentally conscious Coloradans.
In 1919, when rock climbing, mountaineering, and backpacking
were in their infancy in Colorado, a young Forest Service employee
named Arthur Carhart was assigned the task of mapping out a recreation
plan for the area around Trappers Lake in the Colorado mountains. After
spending some time at the exceptionally beautiful spot and talking with
some conservation minded campers, Carhart decided to recommend that
the area should remain undeveloped.10 Carhart's Trappers Lake
experience gave birth to the modern wilderness preservation movement.
Wilderness preservation did not arise solely from Carhart's mind,
however. Colorado had a long tradition of conservationism before 1919,
when the nascent wilderness preservation movement became a new
direction for established conservation ideals.
The development of established policies of wilderness
preservation in the state of Colorado was a long and complex process
which continues to be fraught with controversy. The period between
Arthur Carhart's initial plans for the Trappers Lake area in 1919 and the
implementation of the national wilderness act in 1964 represents a
turbulent period for land policies in Colorado. During this time, the
structure of federal lands within the state was reorganized and the
concept of wilderness gradually incorporated into the National Forests
and other federal lands. Because of the large percentage of land in
Colorado controlled by the Forest Service, over 13 million acres,11 the
permanent reservation of huge tracts of land had a profound impact on
Many Coloradans were vehemently opposed to federal regulation
of the public domain; those who supported and encouraged the
government faced strong opposition. Wilderness preservation remains
one of the most politically charged issues in Colorado. For many
residents of Colorado, the idea of wilderness continues to be a nebulous
concept with questionable benefits. Ranchers, farmers, and residents of
small towns dependent on extractive industries traditionally have felt
economically threatened by wilderness designations and represent some
of the strongest opposition to wilderness in Colorado.12
Because Colorado contains large areas of federally controlled
wilderness and has a long history of conservation conflict, it serves as an
excellent case study of the development of wilderness advocacy in the
American West. Colorado is a state which has traditionally sent anti-
preservation legislators to Washington and has a large conservative rural
population that has tended to oppose wilderness preservation measures.
At the same time, Colorado has produced some of the nation's most
influential conservationists and has a powerful conservation lobby,
which, although outnumbered, has proven to be a force both socially and
The citizens of the West have long been divided over the role that
the federal government should play in the management of Western
lands.13 Wilderness preservation represents the argument in its purest
form: land set aside permanently, held in trust by the federal government
for the aesthetic and recreational enjoyment of present and future
generations. The necessity of reserving wild lands for the future was
unimaginable only a 150 years ago, and for many Westerners the
concept is still regarded as unnecessary and counterproductive.
In the West, many of the basic tenets of American ideology have
been accentuated and exaggerated. The resource-based Western
economy made the American ideal of progress one of the most revered
concepts in the West.14 This was especially true of Colorado where
some of the most vociferous boosters in the West made their home and
promoted their interests.15 The idea of conservation was often
anathema to the spirit of the booster, the extractive industries, and the
small farmers and miners, all of whom had come to the West to exploit
the seemingly limitless natural resources.16
Although the concepts of conservation and preservation were
extremely controversial, then as now, there has always been a
contingent of Coloradans who supported and helped to create federal
conservation policies. As early as the 1870s voices could be heard in
Colorado calling for restraint in the utilization of the natural resources of
During the course of the twentieth century, Western states have
endured a number of elemental changes. One of the most difficult
realizations in the twentieth century was the realization that Western
resources were finite. During the twentieth century the federal
government ceased acting as land agent and assumed the role of land
steward. This transformation was hailed by conservationists and derided
by developers and extractors.
In the early years of the twentieth century, the federal
government faced the task of determining how to best utilize its Western
land holdings for the common good. Conservation of at least a part of
the public land became imperative.18 In the beginning, the purpose of
the conservation was to ensure future productivity of the public lands,
the main goal being efficient use of the National Forests.19 As the new
century dawned, however, more thought went into the aesthetic value of
the land as it was--unspoiled--and how it could be kept that way.
By the 1920s, the concept of wilderness as an inherently valuable
asset for human existence pushed the conservation controversy to new
levels. The idea of wilderness preservation flew in the face of
established Western attitudes toward the public domain; and yet the
concept was the brainchild of men who lived in, and were intimately
familiar with, the wild lands of the West.
Before examining the development of the wilderness preservation
movement in Colorado it is necessary to look at the conservation
movement prior to 1919. The early conflicts in Colorado over the
Federal Forest Reserves provide an important prologue to the events
following Carhart's fateful trip to Trappers Lake.
1. Roderick Nash. Wilderness and the American Mind, rev ed. (New
Haven: Yale University Press, 1974).
2. Henry David Thoreau. Walden and Other Writings, (Toronto:
Bantam Books, 1981).
3. William H. Goetzmann, and William N. Goetzmann. The West of
the Imagination, (New York: W.W. Norton, 1986), p.148.
4. Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind, p.83
6. Ibid, p.122.
7. Samuel P. Hays. Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency: The
Progressive Conservation Movement, 1890-1920, (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1959), p.30.
8. Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind. The chapter on John
Muir is very useful for gaining an understanding of Muir's contributions to
9. The Rocky Mountain News (June 7, 1992): 41.
10. Donald Baldwin. The Quiet Revolution: Grass Roots of Today's
Wilderness Preservation Movement. (Boulder: Pruett Publishing Co., 1972),
11. The Rocky Mountain News, (June 7, 1992), p.40. Counting
BLM lands the federal government controls over 22 million acres in the
state, or 36% of Colorado.
12. Todd Robertson, The Colorado Environmental Coalition, Interview
with author, Denver, Colorado (March 11, 1992).
13. Roy Robbins. Our Landed Heritage: The Public Domain 1776-
1936. Glouchester, MA: Peter Smith, 1960. Robbins' book has very
complete coverage of the nature of the Western land problems.
14. Henry Nash Smith. Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol
and Myth. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1950), p.199.
15. Michael McCarthy. Hour of Trail: The Conservation Conflict in
Colorado and the West, 1891-1907. (Norman: The University of Oklahoma
16. William L. Graf. Wilderness Preservation and the Sagebrush
Rebellions. (Savage, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1990),
1 7. McCarthy, p.46.
18. Robbins, Our Landed Heritage: The Public Domain 1776-1936.
19. Nash, p.136.
THE ROOTS OF THE MOVEMENT: CONSERVATION IN COLORADO,
The years 1876 through 1919 are particularly important in the
development of the wilderness preservation movement in Colorado. This
period saw the formation of modern conservation advocacy. It also was
the nascence of the federal goverment's efforts to actively control and
conserve natural resources in the Western forests. Although these early
conservation efforts were focused mainly on the protection of resources,
not wilderness, the events and philosophies which arose during this
period would influence future developments in wilderness preservation.
To understand the development of conservation advocacy in the state of
Colorado it is important to look at the legislation, economic trends and
evolving ideologies which developed during this period. It is also
necessary to provide some background on the government agencies and
conservation groups which became key players in the wilderness
movement during this early period.
The event which acted as a catalyst for the modern wilderness
conservation movement was a significant piece of legislation, the General
Revision Act. This land reform act was signed into law on March 2,
1891 by president Benjamin Harrison.1 Article 2, of this Act was known
as the "Forest Reserve Act," which laid out specific regulations
concerning the withdrawal of forest lands from the public domain for the
sake of conservation. This portion of the law would have a significant
impact on the state of Colorado.2
The main support for the measure had come from the American
Forestry Association and Colorado's own State Forestry Association.3
Both of these early conservation groups were concerned that without
federal control the West's forests would be exploited to the point of
extinction. The fear for the forests is evidenced in an early bulletin from
the Colorado State Forestry Association:
Since..., by use, by fire and wanton waste, 30,000
square miles of virgin forests of the state have been
destroyed....the enormity is unparalleled; for under no sky, in any
land, by any people civilized or uncivilized was there ever so much
forest waste...in so short a time.4
These early Colorado conservationists realized that government control of
some of the state's forests was the only solution to "wanton waste."
It is important to note that at this point in time in Colorado the
term conservation referred mainly to the conservation of natural
resources for future productive use. Early Colorado conservationists
were mainly concerned with preventing resource waste by supporting a
system of federal regulation.5 Gradually Colorado conservationists
became more concerned with the aesthetic and recreational value of the
The Forest Reserve Act of 1891 gave the president of the United
States unprecedented and unilateral power to reserve forest lands from
uncontrolled public use or sale. This was the first national law which
provided protection to America's public forests. Almost twenty years
earlier President Grant had signed the law which created Yellowstone
National Park. The formation of Yellowstone was the first step toward
federal conservation, however, it was limited to a single specific location
of exceptional beauty. The National Forest Reserve Act, on the other
hand, addressed a much broader area of the West.6 National Parks like
Yellowstone and the Forest Reserves initially were created for very
different reasons; recreation, and resource development and protection
respectively. As the years passed the distinction between the mandates
of the two agencies would become muddled, which would lead to some
Conservation was an important issue in Colorado from the state's
first days. Early on, Colorado was drawn into the heart of the American
conservation controversy, and the state produced some of America's
most effective grass-roots conservation leaders and organizations. When
the Forest Reserve Act was passed in 1891 many residents of the
resource rich Western states that felt the federal government had no
right to control lands that were owned by the public and had previously
been open and unregulated. These people reacted against conservation
legislation and federal regulations.
Other residents of the West however, and Colorado in particular,
were concerned about conservation and felt that regulation was a
positive solution to resource management problems. For many years
prior to the 1891 Forest Reserve Act Coloradans concerned with
conservation had been organizing and analyzing ways in which to
support conservation measures in the state. As early as 1876 with the
drafting of the Colorado state constitution forest preservation was an
issue.7 Colorado claims to be the first state to adopt specific measures
relating to the preservation of forest resources in a state constitution.
The general assembly shall enact laws in order to prevent the
destruction of, and to keep in good preservation, the forests upon
the lands of the state, or upon the lands of the public domain.8
Although the progressive resolutions contained in the Colorado state
constitution did not result in any immediate results towards preservation
of resources, they did result in the formation eight years later in 1884 of
the Colorado State Forestry Association.9 The State Forestry
Association was a group of Colorado citizens concerned with the
destruction of state forest lands. The Association was formed after
Colonel Edgar T. Ensign, a Colorado Springs businessman, who wrote a
series of pointed articles about the condition of the forests in Colorado in
the Colorado Springs Gazette.10 This group of would prove to be an
effective and influential organization in the coming decades.
Colorado's early conservationists were going against the tide of popular
opinion regarding control of natural resources. Throughout the history of
conservationism in Colorado highly motivated individuals helped organize
support for federal land policies in the state.
The founder of the Colorado State Forestry Association, Edgar
Ensign, became one of the first significant conservationists in Colorado.
Ensign was the first Colorado conservationist to recognize the necessity
of publicity and education in fighting the tide of negative feelings
towards conservation in the state. During the years 1884 and 1885 he
wrote numerous articles in the Colorado Springs Gazette to publicize
conservation in the state.11 His early leadership resulted in the
broadening of the support base for conservation in the state.12
Edgar Ensign spent two years, 1885-1887, as the unpaid Forest
Commissioner for the State of Colorado. During those two years he
worked tirelessly to promote the conservation of Colorado's forests.
Although Ensign was able to successfully spread the conservation word
throughout the state and to assemble large quantities of data on the
condition of the forests in Colorado, he was powerless to achieve any
real protection. The 1880s in Colorado proved to be a period of
ideological upheaval regarding forest lands. The new doctrine of limited,
restricted use of the state's forest resources advocated by the
conservationists came into conflict with the tradition of open, free
forests which had been dominant throughout the history of Anglo
settlement in the West.
The conservationist spirit in Colorado sprang from a sense of self
preservation. Conservationists felt that without regulation the economy
and the quality of life in Colorado would be destroyed. Dr. E. E.
Edwards, president of the Colorado State Agricultural School stated the
case for the conservationists, "Whoever makes war upon these forests,
makes war upon our civilization, our prosperity, our happiness."13
Without forests for building, fuel and watersheds, the future
development of the state would be in jeopardy.
The growing awareness of the need for conservation of natural
resources was by no means a universal occurrence. The majority of
Coloradans opposed restrictions on the public domain.14 Colorado's
resource-based industries along with ranchers and other recent settlers
were hostile towards new federal conservation measures.15 Not all
Westerners were convinced of the need for federal controls and
restrictions. For many Coloradans it was impossible to realize that the
vast natural wealth of the state could be depleted in the foreseeable
future. Thus, the split between pro-conservationists and anti-
conservationists in the state of Colorado was based on a fundamental
ideological disagreement. Not until it could be proven that saving, rather
than developing, resources was far more beneficial for the welfare of the
state, would the conservationists viewpoint gain in popularity.
By the 1890s it was becoming increasingly clear to Easterners
and farsighted Westerners that the vast resource wealth of the West was
being dominated by corporations and individuals who did not have a
vested interest in the West.16 Colorado's vast forests were chopped
down, or burned by the square mile to provide timbers for mining,
railroad ties, or to clear land for grazing. This work was done many
times by men or companies which had no long-term commitment to the
state.17 The fact that many of the forest resources of the West were
being depleted by big business was a perversion of the individualistic
ideal cherished by residents of the West.
An example of the abuses to Colorado's forests by industry is the
case of Natanial P. Hill's smelting operation in Black Hawk in the 1870s.
Hill was removing massive quantities of timber from the public lands
around Black Hawk to fuel his furnaces. The abuse in the Hill case was
so great that in 1877, Secretary of the Interior Carl Schurz instigated a
law suit against Hill. Hill moved his operation from the area leaving
thousands of acres of denuded forests.18 The Hill case was unusual in
that there was an attempt to stop the abuse, most instances of abuse of
the public forests by industry went unanswered.
The industrial revolution and the rise of the corporation during the
1890s had brought about a fundamental change in the world of
American business. In the West corporations appropriated and used
resources at an astounding rate with little or no regard to the future.19
Where an individual would inherently recognize the value of at least
limited personal conservation efforts around his home and land, a
corporation could exploit the land and move on.20 The growth of
corporate use and abuse of Colorado's natural resources was a
motivating factor for state conservationists.21
In 1892, acting under the authority given him by the Forest
Reserve Act, President Benjamin Harrison created the White River
Reserve, Colorado's first National Forest Reserve. The reservation of
White River was a clear victory for the conservation forces within
Colorado. Working against fierce opposition the Colorado State Forestry
Association had assembled a determined group of pro-conservationists
who played a significant role in securing the new reserves.22 Their
support of the Forest Reserve Act was a crucial early victory for
Colorado wilderness preservation because it demonstrated the
effectiveness of local citizen support for federal government action.
Opposition to the Forest Reserves came mainly from groups of
Colorado businessmen, small and large. The main group opposed to
any type of regulation of public lands was the mining interests. "They
utterly rejected any concept which threatened to lock up the mountains
and curtail the pursuit of mineral."23 Cattle and sheep ranchers were
also largely against conservation measures. The third group which lined
up against early conservation were the small farmers and homesteaders
of Colorado's western mountains.24 These groups formed the basic
core of conservation opposition in the state for the next hundred years;
together they formed a formidable barrier to conservation in the Colorado
mountains. Although some of these opponents were "spoilsmen," most
were honest businessmen who genuinely feared regulation would hurt
their ability to survive in an increasingly competitive world.25
While the Forest Reserves of the 1890s met with serious
resistance from a majority of Colorado residents and all of Colorado's
legislators clearly, "The policy [of Forest Reserves] was not foisted upon
the state from the outside."26 Colorado's State Forestry Association
formed in 1884, in Colorado Springs was an important early support
group.27 The Association had assembled a loose coalition to support the
Forest Reserve legislation and had been instrumental in publicizing the
The Forest Reserve Act and the establishment of federal forest
reserves in the state of Colorado did not represent the end of the
conservation controversy in the state, rather a new chapter. Although
there had been forceful support of the Forest Reserves from Colorado's
conservationists and equally forceful rejection by anti-conservationist, the
main public reaction was surprisingly ambivalent.29 The pro-
conservation forces in Colorado had something to celebrate, they had
achieved one of their primary goals; federal control. The anti-
conservation forces felt they had their rights infringed upon, but as long
as the new reserves remained essentially open to use, which they did,
the level of actual resistance to the reserves was low.30
The 1890s brought about huge expansions of the national Forest
reserves in the state of Colorado. Under President Cleveland millions of
acres of Colorado forest came under the control of the federal
government, at least on paper.31 In reality, little actually changed in the
Colorado forests during the 1890s. There was little or no administration
of the lands and the exploitation of Colorado forest resources continued
almost unabated.32 The few rangers that were sent out in 1897 were
outnumbered and unable to deal with the problems of controlling the
millions of acres under their care. Consequently they were able to do
little in the way of halting any of the continued abuse of the forests.33
Although the lack of concrete change in Colorado's forests was a
disappointment to the state's conservationists, conservation activities in
the state continued to gain support. The Denver Chamber of Commerce
referring to conservation in Colorado's forests stated that:
It is only through Federal supervision that...uniformity of action
and administrative methods can be obtained, that are absolutely
necessary to preserve these resources for the benefit of the
The conservation movement would receive a boost in the early years of
the twentieth century as the progressive administration of President
Theodore Roosevelt expanded the American conservation movement to
The Roosevelt administration's conservation activities are
especially important to the history of the wilderness preservation
movement. During the Roosevelt presidency the U.S. Forest Service,
under the guidance of Gifford Pinchot, was greatly expanded. Yet at the
same time the American conservation movement would experience a
Gifford Pinchot was the architect and administrator of Roosevelt's
conservation policies. A traditionally trained forester, Pinchot's ideal of
conservation was based on efficient scientific management of forest
resources.35 Another key figure in American conservation of the turn of
the century was, John Muir. Muir would play a large role in bringing
wilderness into the public mind. Muir helped transform the American
tendency to view wilderness from a Calvinistic point of view. In Muir's
philosophy, wilderness was no longer seen as an evil force, but a force
of life and moral purity. Wilderness was also viewed as a force which
had brought out the best in American character.36 By the turn of the
century wilderness was no longer universally viewed as a barrier to
progress, but came to be viewed by many as a vital component of the
The radical physical reorganization of the American population
which occurred during the 1890s placed millions of Americans, old and
new, into a faster paced, stress filled environment. America's
undeveloped areas of wilderness gained in perceived value when
measured vis-a-vis the overcrowded and polluted urban centers which
exploded during the 1890s. John Muir recognized the value of
wilderness in relation to the urban environment:
Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are
beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home;
that wilderness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and
reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and
irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.38
Muir's ideology placed a spiritual value on the forests rather than an
During the 1890s, the popularity of John Muir's transcendentalist
ideology is demonstrated by the growth of the Sierra Club. The Sierra
Club was formed in California in the summer of 1892.39 The
development of the Sierra Club would serve as an example for
Coloradans looking to organize in support of wilderness. The Sierra Club
would develop into one of the most powerful wilderness advocacy
organizations in the twentieth century. The Sierra Club represents an
important new direction for American conservation organizations. The
group was formed to protect wilderness for the sake of wilderness, not
for watershed use or future resource development.
In the late 1890s Gifford Pinchot and John Muir worked together
on the National Forestry Commission. It was during this time that a
basic split in American conservation ideology occurred. Muir's ideology
was based on the assumption that the forest wilderness had to be
conserved because of its inherent value to American society. Muir's
ideology was not based on protection of, or management of commercial
resources. Pinchot on the other hand based his conservation ideology on
the principles of forestry management towards a more productive use of
the forest wilderness. This ideological split would have a profound
impact on the development of the twentieth century wilderness
preservation movement. "The existence of wilderness was simply not
compatible with productive forest management."40
By 1901, Colorado^ conservationists were more likely to be
ideologically aligned with Pinchot rather than Muir. As was the case in
earlier years, the ideological base for Colorado conservationists lay in a
desire to protect the economy of the state through productive utilization
of natural resources. In February of 1901 the Denver Times ran a full
page article which explained why the people of Colorado were "beginning
to understand the value of the timber reserves."41 The article explained
the value of conservation which prevented "wanton waste" and insured
"legitimate" use. As more people became convinced that conservation,
not unrestricted use, was the key to future economic prosperity, the
conservation ideal gained wider and wider appeal.
In the early twentieth century, Coloradans strove to compete in an
increasingly complex and industrial world. Recreation and tourism were
industries that few paid much attention to, but which would grow into
the state's number two industry. Only a hand full of far-sighted
individuals such as Denver conservationist Ellswqrth Bethel a botany
professor at Denver's East High School, viewed tourism and recreation as
the best means of utilizing the state's natural wealth while increasing the
state's economic viability. "Regarding the value of scenery. It is one of
our most important assets, especially in attracting tourists; however, its
value is not appreciated."42 Conservationists in Colorado were among
the first to recognize that the future economy of the state was
dependent on maintaining the scenic value of Colorado's wilderness
areas. Within the next fifty years, tourism and recreation became
dominant economic forces in Colorado.
Another important development which occurred during the
Roosevelt administration was the reorganization of the federal forest
system. The Forest Reserves were transferred tolthe Department of
Agriculture and became National Forests and the ineffectual Bureau of
Forestry was replaced by the efficiency oriented U.S. Forest Service by
1905.43 By 1905 the forestry system that would remain for the
remainder of the 1900s was in-place.
The aggressive management of the forests! of Colorado under the
direction of Pinchot and Roosevelt caused the anti-conservation forces in
Colorado much anxiety. Their opposition illustrated the widespread lack
of concern in Colorado regarding the need and value of conservation.
From the very beginning of the Roosevelt era, the central tragedy
of the conservation conflict in Colorado...was the fact that the
insurgents simply did not understand the motives or the methods
of the progressive conservation planners.44
Ignorance of the need for conservation in Colorado was the most
persistent problem that conservationists would face throughout the
Throughout this period of acrimonious debate over the
management of Colorado's forests, the tourist trade in Colorado was
steadily on the rise. By 1918 the Rocky Mountain News reported that
853,307 people visited the state's forests in a six-month period.45
These tourists came to Colorado because they knew they could still find
pristine forests and wilderness in the state. With the tourists came
money and a big boost to the state economy. The increased tourist
visitation to Colorado's forests would provide added strength to the
conservationist's arguments for preservation of wilderness areas.
Although the restructuring of American society in the 1890s
created more stress, it also created more widespread affluence and its
counter-part, leisure time. The increased affluence of American society
in the early 1900s also spawned a revolution in personal transportation,
the automobile. The access to personal transportation would lead to
increase demand for wilderness. "Changes in transportation and in the
national economy were enormously widening the clientele for Western
vacations."40 The automobile enabled many more people to reach the
Colorado forests than ever before and subsequently increased the
awareness of conservation issues.
The enjoyment of the Colorado mountains was not limited to
tourists from out of state. Colorado residents also had new-found leisure
time and many choose to spend it in the mountains. The increased
interest in exploring Colorado's mountains by local residents is evidenced
in the formation on April 26, 1912 of the Colorado Mountain Club (CMC)
in Denver.47 Many of the charter members of the club were also local
conservationists. This fledgling organization represents the blending of
preservation and recreation that would become the hallmark of the
Colorado wilderness preservation movement in the years to come.
The CMC was formed to "unite...the students, explorers, and
lovers of the mountains of Colorado," while working towards the
"preservation of forests, flowers, fauna, and natural scenery."48 The
CMC would mature over the course of the next five decades into one of
Colorado's strongest supporters of wilderness preservation. By the
1990s the CMC would have almost 8,000 members from chapters all
over the state of Colorado. The CMC has been one of the most
significant conservation organizations in the state. Over the years they
would sometimes waver when faced with controversial issues, but never
gave up their goal to help preserve Colorado's wilderness regions.
As the 1920s approached, Colorado remained torn over
conservation issues. The battle lines were much as they had been, with
most of the support for conservation, and preservation coming from the
urban areas. Although the Colorado Mountain Club would eventually
have chapters all over the state in the late teens and early 1920s, it was
primarily based in Denver and Boulder. By 1919, Colorado's National
Forests were firmly established and had been accepted as permanent by
all but the most vehement of the old anti-conservation guard. A new
generation of Coloradans would come to view the National Forests as a
place for personal recreation and economic opportunity stemming from
the expanding tourist trade.
The years between 1876 and 1919 had witnessed the birth of the
modern American conservation movement. Federal control over the
public forests was solidified, and in Colorado an influential group of
wilderness supporters had slowly grown. As the 1920s approached, the
National Forests faced an unexpected problem. Created to manage
resources, the National Forest Service was faced with managing tourists
in ever increasing numbers.
By 1919 the recreation use of the National Forests in the state of
Colorado had reach a level which demanded attention. On March 1,
1919 the Denver office of the Forest Service was authorized to hire a
landscape architect to help meet the increasing recreational demands on
National Forest lands.49 The man hired for the job was Arthur H.
Carhart, the first full-time Recreational Engineer for the United States
Forest Service.50 The development of National Forest Recreation
policies after 1919 would result in a strengthened relationship between
Colorado conservationists and the Forest Service.
1. Robbins, Our Landed Heritage, p.304.
3. James H. Baker, and LeRoy R. Hafen. History of Colorado Vol.il.
(Denver: Linderman Co, Inc., 1927), p.768.
4. The Colorado State Forestry Association. "It's Origin, Work,
Purposes and Founders." Bulletin published by the society in 1905.
DPL/WHC: Conservation Collection, box 402.
6. Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind, p.108.
7. Rocky Mountain News, January 8, 1876, p.4.
8. Baker and Hafen, p.765.
9. Ibid, p.765.
10. Ibid, p.766.
11. Colorado Springs Gazette. Beginning with an article on October
25,1884, Ensign had more than thirty articles on conservation in Colorado
published in the paper during a two-year period.
12. Baker and Hafen, p.766.
13. Dr.E.E. Edwards, President of the State Agricultural College, as
quoted in Baker and Hafen, p. 762
14. McCarthy, Hour of Trial, p.52.
15. Ibid, p.41.
16. Baker and Hafen, p.762.
18. James E. Fell, Jr. Ores to Metals: The Rocky Mountain Smelting
Industry. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979.
19. McCarthy, p.26.
20. Robbins, Our Landed Heritage, p.301.
21. Baker and Hafen, p.762.
22. Ibid, pp.766-767.
23. McCarthy, Hour of Trial, p.24.
24. Ibid, p.26.
25. Ibid, p.24.
26. Baker and Hafen, p.771.
28. Baker and Hafen, p.767. The methods used by Ensign to
promote the Forest Reserves were very similar to the methods used later by
Coloradans in support of the Wilderness Bill.
29. McCarthy, Hour of Trial, p.44.
31. Ibid, p.46-48.
32. Baker and Hafen, p.771.
34. Fred R. Johnson. "The Denver Chamber of Commerce Believed
in Conservation in 1909." The Green Thumb, 10 no.8 (August 1953): 34.
35. Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind, pp.138-139.
36. Ibid, p.140.
38. John Muir, from "Wild Lands," 1898, as quoted in
Roderick Nash. Wilderness and the American Mind, p.140.
39. Ibid, p.132.
40. Ibid, p.137.
41. The Denver Times, February 3, 1901, p.13.
42. Ellsworth Bethel. An address delivered before the Colorado
Conservation Commission, Denver May 14,1909. Bethel was a professor
of botany at East High School in Denver and a well known conservationist.
The Colorado Conservation Commission was organized in 1908 by Governor
Henry Buchtel after attending a governors conference in Washington. For
details on governors conference see The Denver Post, May 15, 1908 p.9
"Governors Declare War on Resource Wasters." For information on Colorado
Conservation Commission see Baker and Hafen, History of Colorado Vol.ll,
43. Arthur H. Carhart. The National Forests. (New York: Alfred A.
Knopf, 1959), p.29.
44. McCarthy, Hour of Trial, p.91.
45. Rocky Mountain News, January 15/1918, p.10 This article is
a wealth of statistical information on the tourist industry in Colorado for a
one year period.
46. Earl Pomeroy, in Search of the Golden West: The Tourist in
Western America. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1957), p.146.
47. Huge E. Kingery, and Elinor Eppich Kingery. The Colorado
Mountain Club: The First Seventy-Five Years of a Highly Individual
Corporation, 1912-1987. (Evergreen, CO: Cordillera Press Inc., 1988),
48. Ibid, p.1.
49. Baldwin. The Quiet Revolution, p.19.
THE RHYTHM OF THE PIONEER BLOOD: ARTHUR CARHART AND THE
WILDERNESS CONCEPT IN COLORADO1
By the end of the First World War, the controversy over the
national forests in Colorado had begun to fade; almost everyone realized
that the federal government was in the Colorado forests to stay. As the
dust settled over the controversy, millions of Americans began to make
pilgrimages to the new national recreation treasures. The massive influx
of tourists into the national forests would cause the fledgling U.S. Forest
Service to reconsider its mandate and construct a plan for dealing with,
and even promoting tourism and recreation within its realm.
As the Forest Service modified its mission, Colorado
conservationists rose up to support their new aggressive policies. The
support of Colorado conservationists would play an important role in
ensuring the success of the fundamental changes in recreational policies
which occurred during the 1920s and 1930s.
The recreation development of the Colorado National Forests
began with the hiring of Arthur Hawthorn Carhart, a landscape engineer
from Iowa.2 The duties of the United States Forest Service's new
recreational engineer were fairly straightforward at first. Carhart was to
design facilities such as cabins, outhouses, drinking fountains and other
amenities for the hoards of tourists which were descending on Colorado
in increasing numbers each summer.
The original intent of the position was to create facilities similar to
those in the National Parks system. The Forest Service was interested in
attracting some of the tourists who utilized the National Parks. To
compete with the Parks, the Forest Service needed more specific
organization. On the most basic level the Forest Service administration
needed to know what recreational resources they possessed.3
Arthur Carhart was born September 18, 1892 in Mapleton, Iowa.
He studied at Iowa State College where he received a degree in
landscape architecture in 1917. His degree was the first ever given by
Iowa State in landscape architecture. Carhart spent two years in the
military during World War I at Camp Mead, Maryland, as a public health
officer.4 On March 1, 1919, Carhart moved to Denver to begin his new
job as recreational engineer.5 Carhart was in charge of recreational
engineering for an entire Forest Service district. District 2, which
contained over twenty-three million acres.6 Carhart had to virtually
create his own job, so new was the concept of recreation planning in the
Forest Service. Incorporating recreation with timber managment, grazing
and watershed uses was a new concept in 1919.7
Fig. 3.1. Arthur Carhart in Superior National Forest c.1920
Denver Public Library, Western History Department.
Carhart's first project was located in Colorado where he was
forced to do some "pretty fair guessing for a cub landscape architect."8
Although Carhart began his job essentially in the dark regarding
conservation issues, he would develop, over the years into one of the
most effective conservationists of the twentieth century. Carhart's first
major project was the Mount Evans Recreation Plan.9
The main focus of Forest Service recreation in 1919 and the years
following World War I had been creating recreation areas that were
similar to the National Parks. These areas was developed for tourists,
with new roads, hotels, summer cabins and planned camping areas with
restrooms and picnic tables. The "Forest Parks"10 were designed to
service the recreational needs of urban areas such as Denver and
Colorado Springs as well as out-of-state visitors. The goal was to create
areas that were geographically linked so tourists could take "circle trips"
out of cities by the bus load, viewing the mountains from the comfort of
a vehicle or a roadside park.11
The development of camping and tourist facilities in the National
Forests of Colorado would continue until the present day. At the same
time another direction for recreation in the National Forests would
emerge in 1919. The new direction was undeveloped, protected
wilderness. This is the development which became the central focus for
Colorado's conservation movement over the next seventy years. The
man behind the idea was Arthur Carhart and the birth place was Trappers
Lake in the White River National Forest of Colorado.12
After a not so productive first winter as recreational engineer
Carhart was assigned to spend the summer laying out plans for summer
cabins around a spectacular mountain lake. Carhart spent July, 1919
camping at Trappers lake nestled at the base of the Flat Tops in the
White River National Forest.13 During his days working out of a
sportsmen's camp, Carhart was impressed with the pristine beauty of
the location. After being cornered in his tent by Paul J. Rainey, a well
known outdoorsman and conservationist who was staying at the camp,
Carhart was convinced that the plan to build a road and summer cabins
should be abandoned.14 Carhart thought the area had more value
without the cabins and the Forest Service should preserve the area in its
Carhart returned from his Trappers Lake trip with a new mission:
preserve the undeveloped area around Trappers Lake. Carhart's plan was
radical. He had been sent up to the lake to make a development plan,
yet he returned with an assignment complete but with a different
recommendation. Carhart advised his boss, regional supervisor Carl J.
Stahl, of the plan to abandon the roads and the cabins and leave
Trappers Lake as is. Stahl agreed with Carhart that the area should
remain undeveloped so future visitors would be able to enjoy the same
untracked, undeveloped wilderness that had so inspired Carhart.
The Colorado Mountain Club was very interested in the early
developments surrounding Trappers Lake. Only six months after Carhart
made the Trappers Lake proposal The CMC, through their magazine Trail
and Timberline, published a pro-recreation article by Carhart's supervisor
The Forest Service...and...Congress...cannot change the
determination of the public to continue so to use the forests.
Outdoor recreation is a necessity of civilized life.16
Stahl realized early on that public support of the Forests Service's new
direction would ensure future success.17 An informal partnership was
established early between the CMC and the Forest Service in Colorado.
Subsequently a plan was developed, the cabins abandoned and the
Trappers Lake area was closed to further development. "This was an
unprecedented step in Forest Service history; it marked the first de facto
application of the wilderness concept."18
It is important that the wilderness concept is clearly defined. Prior
to Carhart's Trappers Lake proposal wilderness referred to any area of
uninhabited, remote land. The wilderness concept established by Carhart
refers to a land management policy within the U.S. Forest Service.
Wilderness preservation came to be the struggle to keep specific tracts
of undeveloped areas from being opened to industry or commerce.
Carhart's Trappers Lake proposal received attention from around
the Rocky Mountain Region. One of the people most interested in
Carhart's ideas was New Mexico forester Aldo Leopold. Carhart
corresponded with Leopold and laid out his idea for wilderness
development in the National Forests.19 The basic premise in Carhart's
initial philosophy was the concept of public ownership. Carhart wrote in
his correspondence with Leopold about wilderness.
There are...places in which the title is still vested...in the
people of the Nation. If these areas are allowed to go into the
hands of private individuals...the use is in the measure restricted
Carhart's plan was farsighted and his grasp of the future problems which
would face the Forest Service and wilderness was remarkable. Less than
a year before Carhart was writing his memorandums to Aldo Leopold he
had lamented his lack of "acquaintanceship with the Rocky
Mountains."21 In one short year Carhart had visualized a plan that
would shape Forest Service policies in the region for the rest of the
Carhart's wilderness plan was directly tied to recreation, in his
mind the two were synonymous.23 Wilderness was preserved to afford
the type of recreation that was not possible in developed areas.
Carhart's wilderness idea tied directly into the wilderness tradition of
Henry Thoreau and John Muir and the American conservation movement.
Carhart's early plans set aside wilderness:
For preservation and protection of all those things that are of
values great enough to sacrifice a certain amount of economic
return so there may be greater total return from the aesthetic
Carhart's proposal called for the Forest Service to reevaluate its mandate
and to question the management concepts developed under Pinchot.
Conservationists in Colorado, lead by the CMC, would also reevaluate
their conservation priorities and move away from utilitarian
For Aldo Leopold and others in the Forest Service Carhart's ideas
answered many of the questions as to future directions for America's
wildlands.20 Carhart's work on the Trappers Lake proposal and a
subsequent meeting between Carhart and Leopold would inspire Leopold
to attempt a similar project in New Mexico, the Gila Wilderness which
became the first National Forest Primitive Area in the Nation.27
Later in 1919 Carhart would work on another recreation plan for
the San Isabel National Forest in Colorado. In December of 1919 he
produced a sixty-page report outlining recreational possibilities and plans
for the area. Carhart referred to the San Isabel Forest as the "gateway"
to the U.S. Forests.28 (See figure 3.2).
The San Isabel Recreation Plan was a landmark for the
Forest Service, "the first great regional plan...it is bound to be a model
for other like plans that will inevitably follow."29 Although many of
Carhart's suggestions for recreational development in the area were not
implemented in 1919, it was comprehensive and farsighted, and would
later be revived and utilized in the 1970s.30
Not until 1922 did Carhart's plan for Trappers Lake receive formal
approval from District Forester A.S. Peck.31 Trappers Lake represents
the first example of an official wilderness policy in the Forest Service. It
also represents an important link in the development of Colorado's
wilderness preservation movement. The early links established between
the forest service and the CMC represent the beginnings of active
wilderness advocacy for Colorado.
During the remainder of the 1920s, the wilderness concept gained
acceptance in the Forest Service on a national level and was put into
application in forests throughout the National Forest system.
One of the factors contributing to the acceptance of the wilderness
policies developed in the Rocky Mountain Region on the national level
was the competition between the Forest Service and the
TO OTHER FORESTS AND POPULATION
? ' .AREA IN WHICH THE APPAL
1 WHITE MOUNTAIN NOTIONA
ARE BEING ACQUIRED
district boundaries anc
Fig. 3.2. Gateway to the National Forests: Carhart's San Isabel Map.
Denver Public Library, Western History Department, Carhart Collection.
Park Service.32 This rivalry pitted the two agencies against each other
for control of the outdoor recreation on the public lands. The Forest
Service hoped to gain support for their new wilderness policies from
conservation organizations. If the Forest Service could gain public
support then the risk of losing land with recreation potential to the Park
Service would decline.33 The quest for public support by the Forest
Service led to an increase in influence for Colorado's conservation
groups, as they became the medium for the Forest Service's efforts.34
In 1926 Forest Service Chief William Greeley would instruct
regional Forest Service offices to review their regions with the wilderness
idea in mind. This was an official Washington approval for regional
foresters to expand the wilderness within their respective areas.35 The
acceptance of the wilderness concept within the utilitarian Forest Service
signaled a remarkable change in the way in which the Forest Service
dealt with the lands under its control.
During the decade of the 1920s, support for wilderness from
groups within Colorado would play an important part in influencing
regional wilderness policy in the Forest Service. The Colorado Forestry
Association, The Colorado Mountain Club, the Colorado State
Horticultural Society, The Rocky Mountain Climbers Club, as well as
numerous civic societies and chambers of commerce and university
groups were supporters of wilderness.38
As the wilderness ideal within the Forest Service was developed
over the course of the 1920s, new groups arose to provide support. The
Colorado Mountain Club was particularly enthusiastic and successful in
the efforts to support wilderness preservation in Colorado's National
Forests. The organization, through its publication Trail and
Timberline,37 encouraged members to support the efforts of the
government to preserve the forests. "[The CMC] has tried through the
council of Denver, the legislature of Colorado, and the national congress,
to make plundering of natural beauty illegal."38 The CMC contributed
time and money to help the Forest Service promote conservation in the
state. In one instance the CMC helped to pay for 100,000 copies of a
leaflet on forest conservation.39 Communication between the two
organizations was close and Forest Service employees such as Fred R.
Johnson were frequent contributors to Trail and Timberline.
In 1922, in response to the work of the Forest Service towards
establishing "Recreation Fans" surrounding Denver, Colorado Springs,
and Pueblo, the Colorado Forest Glaciers Recreation Association was
formed. This was a typical early conservation advocacy group in
Colorado, composed mainly of urban residents from the Front Range.40
The importance of local support for Forest Service policies was
voiced by Arthur Carhart in Denver's Municipal Facts Magazine in 1922.
The combined, intelligent action of the local people is bound to be
a big factor in putting over the plans for establishing here a region
noted for its unadulterated alpineering opportunities.41
The strength of the support for the wilderness concept in Colorado in its
early stages is not surprising considering the previous forty years of
conservation activities within the state.
Another example of the depth of early support for wilderness in
Colorado was the First Annual Conference on Nature Protection and
Conservation. Organized by the Boulder chapter of the Colorado
Mountain Club and cosponsored by the University of Colorado, it was
held in August 1923; the conference was a huge success with over
fifteen hundred persons attending.42 The meeting brought together
many of Colorado's conservationists and representatives from every pro-
conservation organization in the state, as well conservationists from
around the nation.43 A nationally known conservation leader. Dr. H.C.
Oberholser of the U.S. Biological Survey commented after attending the
conference "Colorado [was] well in the lead among the states in
Arthur Carhart spent only three years in the United States Forest
Service, yet in those years he left an indelible mark on the organization.
Carhart would go on to become one of Colorado's most distinguished
conservationists. Carhart left the Forest Service in 1922 to form a
private landscape architecture firm. He would later become a full-time
professional writer. Between his retirement from the Forest Service in
1922 and the passage of the Wilderness Bill in 1964 Carhart wrote
hundreds of articles advocating wilderness preservation.
By the late 1920s, wilderness within the National Forests was no
longer a concept, it was reality. Because of the efforts of Arthur
Carhart, Aldo Leopold, and other conservationists in the Forest Service
and in the private sector, a new direction was established for America's
forests. Able to see beyond immediate economic gains, these men were
able to foresee the future of American recreational trends and organize to
meet them. At the same time they had recognized the environmental
necessity of preservation and had conceived of a system which would
provide for the reservation of some of America's most spectacular
landscape to be open for present and future generations. "True wild
country with all its natural denizens...is as much a part of the American
heritage as any structure, place, document, or chattel. We are
desperately close to having insufficient wild lands remaining."45
The pure practicality of the wilderness concept was the key factor
to its ready acceptance within the Forest Service and with the
conservationists of Colorado. The Plan was not expensive. All it
required was to leave some regions alone. The growing recreational
demands on the National Forests during the 1920s had forced the
conservation issue to the fore. The support of local conservationists in
Colorado had provided a climate which made for an easier transition to
wilderness in the National Forests than might have been possible had
there not been a well established base of support.
The Forests Service's new direction did not receive universal
support in Colorado. The pro-conservation forces remained a minority in
the 1920s. However, with the CMC leading the way, an influential
group of like-minded organizations were building a network which played
a larger and larger role as wilderness was expanded over the ensuing
decades in Colorado.
1. Arthur Carhart. Colorado. (New York: Coward-McCann, Inc.,
1932). Dedication, "To my Father and Mother. In their hearts always has
beaten the Rhythm of the Pioneer blood."
2. Baldwin. The Quite Revolution, p.14. Also by the same author on
the wilderness concept in Colorado, "Wilderness: Concept and Challenge."
Colorado Magazine. Summer 1967, pp.226-240. This article covers
essentially the same material on the Colorado roots of the wilderness
concept as Quite Revolution in a much more concise fashion.
3. Ibid, pp.20-22.
4. The Rocky Mountain News, December 27, 1941.
5. Donald Baldwin. "Wilderness: Concept and Challenge." Colorado
Magazine, (Summer 1967): p.4.
6. Ibid, p.4.
7. The Denver Post, April 8, 1973, p.33.
8. Arthur Carhart. Report on Preliminary Study of the Mount Evans
Recreational Area. Pike National Forest, Colorado, June 1919. Arthur
Carhart Collection, Denver Public Library Conservation Collection, hereafter
referred to as "Carhart Collection." Vault.
9. Carhart, Mount Evans Recreation Area, 1919. Carhart Collection,
Vault. This plan was actually Carhart's first assignment as recreational
engineer, but is not as significant as the two projects that followed that
same year. Carhart was sent to the Pike National Forest to determine if the
Mt. Evans region would make a good National Park. Carhart would later
write that it was "a good deal of a job to throw at a youngster that was just
out of college...[and] had no very considerable acquaintanceship with the
10. Carhart, Municipal Facts, II (July 1919): p.7.
11. Carhart, Memorandum for Record (March 1967) 1919 Plan for
Recreational Development of Mt. Evans Region. DPL/WHC, Carhart
12. USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region; Brief. National
Forest Wilderness in Colorado. 1974, p.1.
13. Baldwin, "Concept and Challenge." p.5. This area is now
surrounded by the Flattops Wilderness Area. Because the creek draining
Trappers Lake was considered a possible power site, the lake was not
included in the wilderness area.
14. The Denver Post, July 20, 1967, p.75.
15. Baldwin, "Concept and Challenge," pp.5-6.
16. Carl J. Stahl. "The Recreation Policy of the Forest Service." Trail
and Timberline, no.17 (January 1920): 7.
17. Ibid, p.7.
18. Ibid, p.5. The term de facto meaning, in reality or fact, is
commonly used when referring to wilderness areas that are wilderness
simply because they have not been developed. In current use de facto
wilderness, and roadless areas are synonymous.
19. Arthur Carhart. Correspondence with Aldo Leopold. DPL/WHC,
Carhart Collection, Box 75.
20. Carhart, as quoted in Baldwin, The Quiet Revolution, p.33.
21. Carhart, Plan for Recreational Development of Mt. Evans Region,
Carhart Collection, p.1.
22. Carhart was long neglected by the Forest Service and the press,
both of whom consistently credited the wilderness concept to Aldo Leopold.
It was not until the late sixties with the publication of Donald Baldwin's
article for Colorado Magazine that Carhart began to receive credit for the
ideas behind modern wilderness.
23. The Denver Post, April 8, 1973, p.31.
24. Carhart as quoted in The Denver Post (April 8, 1973), p.33.
25. Economics would always play a role in justifications for
preservation from Colorado conservationists. But this period represented
a shift away from management for forestry and emphasized economic gain
26. USDA Forest Service, National Forest Service Wilderness in
27. Craig W. Allin. The Politics of Wilderness Preservation.
(Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1982), p.70.
28. Arthur Carhart. General Working Plan. Recreational Development
of the San Isabel National Forest Colorado. December 1919. Carhart
Collection, Box 80.
29. Arthur Carhart. "Municipal Playgrounds in the Forests."
Municipal Facts, II (July 1919): pp.7-14.
30. The Denver Post, April 8, 1973, p.33.
31. Baldwin, The Quite Revolution, p.189.
32. Allin, p.71.
33. Ibid, p.72.
34. This was particularly true for the CMC, with their publication and
35. Allin, pp.72-73.
36. Carhart. "Going to the Glaciers." Municipal Facts (March-April
37. Trail and Timberline began publication in 1918 after the CMC
had been in existence only six years. This publication would quickly
become one of the best sources for Colorado conservationists to express
their views. Arthur Carhart would be a frequent contributor and over the
years articles would appear by Carl Stahl, Fred Johnson, George Kelly, and
Richard D. Lamm.
38. Lucretia Vaille. "Review of the Mountain Club Scrapbook." Trail
and Timberline. no.43 (April 1922): 6. Also see "Forest Service
Resolution." in the same edition which condemns attempts to have the
Forest Service and the National Forests transferred back to the Department
of the Interior. Two other articles which are good sources for this period
are "Forest Conservation." by W.W. Booth published in Trail and Timberline,
no.87 (December 1925): p.21, and another article with the same title by
Bert S. Elliott in Trail and Timberline, no.129 (July 1929): p.8. This last
article commends the federal government on behalf of the CMC for the
forest wilderness preservation efforts of the 1920s.
39. Transcript of May Directors Meeting printed in Trail and
Timberline, no.81 (June 1925): 10.
40. Carhart, "Going to the Glaciers," p.9.
42. Robert Rockwell. "Conservation Conference a Big Success," Trail
and Timberline, no.61 (October 1923): 7.
45. Arthur Carhart. The National Forests. (New York: Alfred A.
Knopf, 1959), p.107.
CONSERVATIONISTS WORK TOWARDS A
WILDERNESS FUTURE: COLORADO PRIMITIVE AREAS
The collective efforts of Colorado conservationists and the United
States Forest Service during the 1920s created an atmosphere ripe for
change toward more progressive wilderness preservation. The idea of
wilderness was transformed during this period from an abstract concept
with its roots in American popular ideology to a tangible plan for
conservation action in the public domain. Arthur Carhart and Aldo
Leopold were responsible for originating the concept within the Forest
Service and engineering a workable plan to carry out wilderness
preservation and recreation policies on federal land. By the late 1920s
the Forest Service was ready to act on their plans on a national level to
promote wilderness in the National Forests.
By the late 1920s, the Forest Service was locked in conflict with
the Park Service over control of lands with recreational potential. The
Park Service pondered a take over of National Forest lands primarily
suited for recreation. This is one reason the Forest Service was anxious
to develop a plan for management of recreational lands. In 1928 the
Forest Service made its plans to continue to protect its de facto
wilderness through special designations at the National Conference on
In 1928 National Forest Recreation Planning coordinator L.F.
Kneipp had written a plan for National Forest wilderness. In 1929 the
plan was officially accepted by Chief Forester Stuart and became known
as Regulation L-20.2 The L-20 regulations provided for "uniform
management of Primitive Areas."3 The regulation also encouraged
District foresters to evaluate the lands in the forests they managed and
to designate de facto wilderness as Primitive Areas. The term Primitive
Area was a Forest Service term which referred to tracts of land in the
National Forests which were essentially undeveloped.
The semantics of wilderness in its early stages is somewhat
confusing. The word wilderness was used in a general sense, it also was
used in reference to a specific concept, Carhart's wilderness concept and
finally would come to represent an area of a specific size.4 For the
purposes of this study the term Primitive Areas refers to the first official
Forest Service designations of wilderness type areas. The L-20
regulations would have an immediate effect on the state of Colorado.
For three years prior to the L-20 regulation the Rocky Mountain
District had "sensed the condition that was rapidly developing and set
aside a number of natural areas."5 When the regulation came into effect
Colorado already had a number of areas which had been in the process
of being studied for years. The Forest Service defined Primitive Areas as
areas set aside for:
the purpose of conserving, unimpaired, areas of unique natural
value so that the public may have the opportunity of observing
the conditions which existed in the pioneer phases of the Nation's
The area's main purpose was to service the recreational needs of the
public. Although the L-20 regulations were the first official national plan
for wilderness preservation they were not readily enforceable and were
open to regional interpretation within the Forest Service. Also the
regulations did not ban grazing or timber cutting in the newly formed
Primitive Areas. While many conservationists would view the L-20
regulations as too limited, the regulations would provide for the
establishment of an official, if not legal, wilderness system.
By 1930, only one year after the L-20 regulation was officially
approved, Colorado's National Forests already had 978,000 acres of
Primitive Areas.7 The system was in place in time to receive a record
number of tourists who visited the Colorado National Forests in 1931
and 1932.8 During the years 1929 through 1933, there were nine major
Primitive Areas established in Colorado (see figure 4.1, table 4.1).
COLORADO WILDERNESS, WILD, PRIMITIVE, AND ROADLESS AREAS
U (US) igf
Although this map was produced in 1957 it provides an accurate picture
of the original Colorado Primitive Areas.9
CREATION OF COLORADO PRIMITIVE AREAS
AREA RECOMMENDED APPROVED
1. Mt. Zirkel Jul. 16, 1931 Oct. 15, 1931
2. Flattops Dec. 17, 1929 Mar. 5, 1932
3. Wilson Mountains- Uncompahgre Mar. 22, 1930 Oct. 1, 1932
4. Gore Range- Eagles Nest May 20, 1930 June 19, 1932
5. San Juan Nov. 22, 1930 Feb. 15, 1932
6. La Garita Aug. 25, 1931 Oct. 1, 1932
7. Rawah Sep. 15, 1931 May 6, 1932
8. West Elk Oct. 27, 1931 Jan. 12, 1932
9. Maroon Bells- Snowmass Apr. 27, 1932 Feb. 28, 1933
10. Holy Cross Apr. 27, 1932 Feb. 28, 1933
The total combined acreage for these areas was approximately one
million. All of these areas, individually or in combination, became
Wilderness Areas after 1964.10
Accepted for protection under the L-20 regulations in October of 1931,
the Mt. Zirkel-Dome Peak Primitive Area was the first of Colorado's
The developments in the Colorado forests were followed closely
by local conservation groups. In 1930 two articles appeared in Trail and
Timberline concerning Primitive Areas. In the June issue of 1930,
forester Fred Johnson wrote an article outlining the new L-20 regulations
and explaining their effect on Colorado.12 Johnson was a particularly
valuable ally for the CMC. He had been a forester in Colorado for most
of the century and was a dedicated conservationist. Over the years he
contributed articles to Trail and Timberline, keeping CMC members
informed about changes in the National Forests of Colorado. Johnson
and others at the Forest Service recognized the value of the support from
groups like the CMC, and worked hard to cultivate and maintain the
conservation support system which had helped gain the establishment of
the Primitive Area system.
The Forest Service and the Colorado Mountain Club have
worked together for many years. They have many mutual
interests. Forest Officers can readily subscribe to all the tenets
given in the purposes and objectives of the Mountain Club.13
In the same issue as Johnson's article was an article by Walter Pesman
on "Nature Protection Possibilities."14 In this article Pesman outlines
plans for future conservation advocacy:
"The time is ripe for all organizations interested in...conservation
to join in concerted action. Much larger constructive work can be
done by such combined efforts."15
As early as 1923 there was already a loose coalition of
conservation groups in Colorado as the collaboration during the 1923
Conservation Convention in Boulder demonstrated.16
The idea of coalition building was not a new one to the American
conservation movement. While the Primitive Area development was
getting underway in Colorado, events in the Superior National Forest, in
Minnesota would provide a look into the future of wilderness advocacy in
America. The Superior National Forest wilderness area is Arthur
Carhart's most significant achievement as a Forest Service employee.17
In the late 1920s the Superior Wilderness was threatened by potential
power development which would adversely affect water levels
throughout the wilderness. The Izaak Walton League and the Sierra Club
lobbied intensively to prevent any development which would affect
Superior.18 Their efforts paid off and in July of 1930 Herbert Hoover
signed into law the Shipstead-Newton-Nolan Act. With this act,
Congress "had, for the first time, created by statute what amounted to a
national forest wilderness area...the Superior Roadless Area."19 The
action in Superior was an indication for future direction in wilderness
preservation, coalitions of conservationists lobbying and educating the
public and persuading Congress to take action.
In Colorado the development of National Forest Primitive Areas
represented the culmination of the process began a decade earlier on the
shores of Trappers Lake. Although Trappers Lake itself would not be
designated a Primitive area and would never be included in the Colorado
wilderness system the area surrounding it would. In December of 1929,
acting under the authority of the L-20 regulations, the Flattops Primitive
Area was recommended for approval.20 The plan for the area stated
that the Flattops area was "...ideally adapted to pack trips, with
outstanding...scenic features, excellent fishing waters, big game animals,
and inaccessibility other than by horseback or foot."21 The language
used in the designation of the Flattops Primitive Area is typical of other
primitive areas in Colorado. While the area was, as of 1932, officially
designated Primitive and therefore wilderness, future timber harvesting
was not ruled out. Over fifty thousand acres within the area were noted
as having "commercial quality" timber and the plan called for future
harvest when "marketing conditions" improved.22
Although Flattops was the first area in Colorado to be submitted
for approval as a Primitive Area, Mt. Zirkel was the first area approved.
Fig. 4.2. Backcountry visitors, Snowmass area, c.1920s. Denver Public Library,
Western History Department, Photo by Arthur Carhart.
The Mt. Zirkel area is located in Northwest Colorado within Routt
National Forest. The area was approved as a Primitive Area by Regional
Forester Allen S. Peck in November of 1931.23 Like Flattops, the
designation of Mt. Zirkel did not provide for total exclusion of commercial
activity. "Economic considerations were inherent in the Mt. Zirkel-Dome
Peak Primitive Area management plan."24 The Primitive Areas in
Colorado which resulted from the L-20 regulations represented a first
step toward the modern concept of wilderness. It would require another
decade for the system to be refined to exclude most commercial activity
Although the L-20 Primitive Areas in Colorado left much leeway
for economic development, it is clear that the Forest Service employees
in the state envisioned a future for the areas which would depend on
recreation alone.25 The question of public opinion toward the new
Primitive Areas was one the Forest Service wrestled with. In a 1974
Forest Service Brief, National Forest Service Wilderness in Colorado, the
1930s are identified as a period during which there was "no real or even
identifiable base of public opinion...to support or champion the National
Forest wilderness concept."26 In the same report, however. Forest
Service supervisors of the day are quoted as indicating that while public
opinion was difficult to gauge there did seem to be general support for
the designations in most areas.27
The 1974 Forest Service study on Colorado wilderness gives one
the impression there was not a definable support base for Primitive Areas
in Colorado; this simply was not the case. Although the average citizen
most likely did not know or care about the new designations, Colorado
conservationists and their constituency did. As early as 1930, just as
the Primitive Areas in Colorado were beginning to be designated, Walter
Pesman wrote in Trail and Timberline, "The U.S. Forest Service is doing
wonders...protecting its National Forests and in setting aside research
and primitive areas."28 In the same article Pesman called for
conservation organizations to join together, and for all concerned
conservationists to concentrate their efforts on educating the public
about "Nature Protection Possibilities."29
Education became the primary concern for Colorado
conservationists during the 1930s and into the 1940s. One of the
biggest problems for conservationists in the state was establishing a
broader base of support for Forest Service wilderness policies. The
general public was essentially ignorant of wilderness issues during the
1930s. One of the biggest factors contributing to the lack of interest in
wilderness developments during the 1930s was the economic and social
upheaval caused by the Great Depression. People consumed with
personal economic survival had little time to formulate opinions on issues
that did not have a direct impact on them personally.
In many ways the Depression helped the Forest Service achieve
some of its early goals in Colorado. Because of the economic hardships
of the time, many of the industries which might have opposed the new
Primitive Areas the most were driven out of business or forced to cease
expensive exploratory research in de facto wilderness areas. This was
especially true in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass area where mining activity
declined sharply during the 1930s. The 1933 management plan for the
area indicated that.
Today, everything is quiet. Ashcroft, an old mining town just
outside the Primitive Area on Castle Creek, was once alive with
people, but now is abandoned, except for a lonely prospector or
two...Most of these mining patents are tax delinquent lands and
eventually will probably be acquired through exchange.30
Little controversy surrounded the new Forest Service wilderness
policies that developed during the 1930s. Even when the Great
Depression is taken into account the limited reaction is uncharacteristic
for Colorado. The apathy surrounding the issue forced conservationists
to devise new education and awareness programs. There were some
limited objections from those residing in the regions directly effected by
the Primitive areas but for the most part there was little reaction to
increasing wilderness activity by the Forest Service.
By the late 1930s, the Primitive Areas in Colorado had become an
important part of the recreation system. The Colorado Year Book for
1939-1940 lists the various Primitive Areas along with other more
traditional sources for tourist recreation in the National Forests.31 Even
during the Depression years the use of the Primitive Areas was
constantly increasing.32 By the end of the 1930s, the Forest Service
reevaluated the Primitive Area policies and issued a new set of guidelines
for Forest Service wilderness. The new regulations are commonly
referred to as the "U-Regulations." These new regulations made the
earlier L-20 regulations binding on regional foresters and provided for
reclassification of Primitive Areas according to size.33
The new U-Regulations were much stricter than the old L-20
regulations had been, especially for wilderness and wild areas. They also
provided for the designation of new areas by the Secretary of Agriculture
rather than the Chief of the Forest Service which made new designations
more binding.34 In Colorado the new U-Regulations helped solidify and
strengthen the wilderness system that had been built in the earlier part of
the decade through the Primitive Area program. The new regulations
eliminated the commercial activities which had still been permissible
under the provisions of the L-20 regulations. The reclassification of
Colorado's Primitive Areas under the new designations would occur over
the next twenty years.
The 1930s represent the period of the most accelerated growth in
National Forest wilderness policies. The ten areas established in
Colorado during the early part of the decade still form the backbone of
the wilderness system in the state sixty years later. Yet with all of the
advances made towards preserving Colorado's wilderness, the period
represents a relatively quiet period. Public sentiment was diverted by the
Depression and the New Deal.
The main focus of the general public and the press on the National
Forests during this time was on the Civilian Conservation Corps and their
activities toward forest improvement.35 Colorado's conservation groups
closely monitored the wilderness developments in the forests and openly
cooperated with local foresters in the establishment of the areas. Some
the data was collected on the areas and utilized during the
reclassification process was done by the Colorado Mountain Club and
other mountain clubs who visited the areas and recorded what they
The reaction to Primitive Area expansions among Colorado
conservationists, and others was overwhelmingly positive. By 1939 the
Forest Service's Fred Johnson was able to comment:
This policy [Primitive Areas in Colorado] has worked out
satisfactorily and has met with almost universal public approval--
so much so that the Service is studying the advisability of
improving and extending the boundaries of existing areas.37
As the 1940s approached, the wilderness conservation ideal had become
widely accepted in Colorado. A 1940 publication of the State of
Colorado Department of Education proclaimed "Conservation...is no
longer an abstract problem. It is a vital and necessary part of our
national economy."38 The publication goes on to note that tourism to
Colorado's "crags and canyons and mountain peaks" was ranked, by
1940, as the state's third most profitable industry.39
The cooperation of Colorado conservationists with the Forest
Service greatly facilitated the development and expansion of wilderness
in the state during the 1930s. Forest Service expansions required
forceful showings of public support, and the Forest Service in Colorado
relied on the conservation organizations to generate that support. Future
efforts of conservationists would turn toward educating the public and
winning support for federal policies within the state. The efforts of
conservationists during this period would help further develop a strong
working relationship between the Forest Service and conservation
advocates in Colorado.40
The educational efforts on the part of conservationists which
began during this period would prove crucial in future years. The ability
of conservation groups to generate public support for conservation and
preservation activities would help ensure future successes in Colorado.
In the future, Colorado's conservation organizations goals for wilderness
would move away from the goals of the Forest Service. Gaining a wide
base of public support became all the more important as conservationists
moved on to support wilderness measures which went beyond the Forest
1. Allin, The Politics of Wilderness Preservation, p.73.
2. Graf, Wilderness Preservation and the Sagebrush Rebellions,
3. USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Regional Office,
Chronology of the Wilderness Concept in the National Forests, 1974.
5. Fred R. Johnson. "Primitive Areas in the National Forests," Trail
and Timberline, no.140 (June 1930): 10.
7. Ibid, p.11.
8. The Colorado Year Book, 1932, pp. 41-43. In 1931 there were
2,265,070 recreational visitors to Colorado's National Forests. The sheer
number of visitors and growing popularity of tourism in the forests of
Colorado made a persuasive argument for preservation and expansion of
9. USDA Forest Service. Wilderness-Type Areas in the National
Forests (wilderness, wild. Primitive, and Roadless Areas). 1957. Carhart
Collection, Box 67c.
10. The data for this table was derived from information in the USDA
Forest Service Report, National Forest Wilderness in Colorado, 1974.
11. USDA Forest Service, Chronology, p.2.
12. Johnson, "Primitive Areas in the National Forests," p. 10.
13. Fred R. Johnson. "The National Forests and the Mountain Club,"
Trail and Timberline, no.245 (May 1939): 55-56.
14. Walter Pesman. "Nature Protection Possibilities." Trail and
Timberline, no.140 (June 1930): 2, 12.
15. Ibid, p.2.
16. Robert B. Rockwell. "Conservation Conference a Big Success,"
Trail and Timberline, no.61 (October 1923): 7.
17. For information on the Quetico-Superior Wilderness and Arthur
Carhart's contribution to its creation see Baldwin's Quiet Revolution. For
a less biased and more contemporary look at Carhart and Superior see David
Backes "Wilderness Visions: Arthur Carhart's 1922 Proposal for the
Quetico-Superior Wilderness," Forest and Conservation History 35 (July
18. Allin, The Politics of Wilderness Preservation, pp.77-80.
19. Ibid, p.79.
20. The Flattops Wilderness straddles Garfield and Rio Blanco
Counties in Northwest Colorado. It constitutes the heart of the White River
National Forest, Colorado's first Forest Reserve.
21. USDA Forest Service, Colorado Wilderness, 1974, p.6. For
detailed information on Forest Service history in each of Colorado's
wilderness areas this document is very helpful. Details of the changes in
Forest Service policy in each of the areas is provided, along with details
from the original reports recommending the areas for primitive status.
22. Ibid, p.5.
23. Ibid, p.11.
25. Ibid, p.15.
26. Ibid, p.16.
27. Ibid. The question of public opinion can be found in the report
concerning most of the areas; the conclusions of the different supervisors
were very similar.
28. Walter Pesman. "Nature Protection Possibilities," Trail and
Timberline, no.140 (June 1930): 2.
30. Management plan for Maroon Bells-Snowmass Primitive Area, as
quoted from Forest Service, Colorado Wilderness, p. 9.
31. The Colorado Year Book, 1939-1940. "Recreation Data on
National Forests," p.57. This publication provides a wealth of statistical
information on a vast number of topics. The information on Colorado forests
and tourists is particularly helpful when trying to gage the extent of use and
support for Forest Service policies.
33. Graf, Wilderness Preservation and the Sagebrush Rebellions,
p. 159. The U-Regulations specified that U-1 would be areas over 100,000
acres which would be referred to as "Wilderness." U-2 were areas of
5,000-100,000 acres and would be know as"Wild Areas." And finally there
would by U-3 areas which would consist of areas of various sizes and
would be referred to as "Roadless."
34. Johnson, "The National Forests and the Mountain Club," p.55.
35. For more information on the CCC in Colorado see; Robert B.
Parham. "The Civilian Conservation Corps in Colorado, 1933-1942." M.A.
Thesis, The University of Colorado, 1981.
36. Johnson, "The National Forests and the Mountain Club," p.55.
38. The State of Colorado, Department of Education. Colorado's
Wealth: A Bulletin on Conservation of Natural Resources. 1940. Forword,
p.1. This is an interesting publication which was designed for use as a part
of the curriculum for the Colorado public school system. Although mainly
concerned with soil conservation and erosion, it does have some interesting
sections on forest preservation and is a good source of mainstream
conservation ideology during the late 1930s early 1940s.
39. Ibid, p.61.
40. Johnson, "The National Forests and the Mountain Club," p.55.
A MOVEMENT IN TRANSITION: THE 1940s AND 1950s
The 1940s and 1950s represent a transitional period for
wilderness in Colorado and the nation. By this time the wilderness
concept was firmly entrenched in the Forest Service and in the minds of
conservationists and outdoor recreation enthusiasts. The general public's
awareness of wilderness needs was growing and would continue to grow
during this period mostly due to the educational efforts of conservation
organizations. Educating the public about the need for wilderness was a
crucial role played by Colorado conservation organizations.
Conservationists realized that to ensure the future of Colorado's newly
designated wilderness areas public awareness and support was
Although the wilderness concept was an officially accepted policy
within the Forest Service, and public awareness was growing throughout
the 1930s, wilderness was by no means an universally accepted policy in
Colorado or the West. The 1940s and 1950s brought new events and
people into play which threatened the wilderness developments of the
1920s and 1930s. World War II was one of these events. The military
industrial complex of World War II created a vast need for raw materials.
The industrial explosion which occurred during and after the war would
have an impact on public opinion toward federal natural resource land.2
During the 1940s, Colorado conservationists continued their
efforts to organize and educate the public about wilderness and the
public domain. The war years displaced much of the attention and some
of the momentum of the conservation movement in Colorado. While
public attention was diverted, conservationist groups continued to
organize. In 1944 the Colorado Forestry Association became the
Colorado Forestry and Horticulture Association with a new publication.
The Green Thumb? This group was organized to expand the old
Forestry Association to a broader audience, to "Strive to develop in all
parts of the state a civic consciousness to work for the preservation of
places of natural beauty."4 Organizations dedicated to forest
conservation, horticulture and gardening were common in Colorado
during this time period.5
The involvement of horticulture and gardening associations in
wilderness conservation was particularly important during this transitional
period. The mobilization for total war during World War II forced
American's to focus on personal conservation. Because of food
shortages, gardening became a priority for anyone who had available
ground to plant on. Organizations such as the Colorado Forestry and
Horticulture Association and local societies were able to demonstrate to
those interested in horticulture and gardening that conservation of
wilderness was also an imperative for Colorado and the nation.6 The
conservation mentality that existed during the war years created wider
acceptance in the post-war years.7
The most significant contribution of Colorado's conservation-
minded organizations during the 1940s was their publicizing of
conservation through their magazines, newsletters and the press
educating their members and the public about statewide conservation
needs.8 Many of these members would, in turn, spread the
conservation message to other groups and form splinter groups of their
own with more specific conservation goals.9
The economic boom following World War II would be a positive
factor towards achieving public support for wilderness issues as the
American standard of living increased. The increase of American
affluence during the post war period lead to an increase in travel to
Western wilderness.10 The subsequent tourism explosion created a
heightened awareness of the need for preservation within the general
public. At the same time the influx of tourists to the National Forests
began to strain the fragile wilderness awareness resulting in a new set of
Not all of the effects of the war were positive for Colorado's
conservationists. One of the issues addressed early on by the fledgling
Colorado Forestry and Horticulture Association was the effect of the war
and the prospects for the post-war period on conservation in Colorado:
We know that big things are being planned for Colorado
after the war. These include new highways, irrigation and power
projects...But we are not told that nearly every gain
entails...destruction of other natural values.12
The industrial complex which geared up for total war in the mid 1940s
turned to massive domestic developments in the post war period. The
prospect of major new public works projects in Colorado was not
welcomed by most conservationists who perceived a threat to
wilderness.13 Many of the gains in conservation awareness which
arose during the war was offset by the support for massive public works
projects in the West after the war.14
Another issue which came into prominence during the post-war
period which threatened newly designated wilderness in Colorado was
reclamation. U.S. reclamation policies would diametrically oppose the
policies of wilderness preservation. Reclamation projects brought billions
of federal dollars into the West and water to parched and impoverished
counties. Water was also a necessity for millions of people who poured
into the post-war boom towns such as Denver, Phoenix, Albuquerque,
and Los Angeles.15 The issue of water came to be the single most
divisive issue relating to Colorado wilderness preservation and the
proponents of reclamation the conservationists greatest foe.
Changing federal policies and public support for reclamation
projects in the 1940s led to a consensus among national conservationists
that federal legislation was the only way to ensure the future of
America's wilderness.16 In Colorado new conservation groups and
coalitions of groups arose to generate support for federal wilderness
legislation. Most of the local groups were splinter groups from the
established conservation groups within the state.17 A new generation
of conservationists took a much more radical view towards wilderness
preservation.18 While traditionally the Colorado groups had been willing
to support the Forest Service and were careful not to create controversy
the conservationists of the late 1950s and early 1960s would take a
much more radical stance.19
One of the strongest voices for conservation in Colorado in the
1940s, as in years past, was Arthur Carhart. At this point Carhart was
far removed from his career with the National Forest Service. He retired
in 1922 and was a professional writer. Carhart was in a unique position
amongst Colorado conservationists in that he was a nationally known
author who was able to publish in prestigious national magazines on a
regular basis. Carhart's steady stream of conservation articles
throughout the 1940s greatly expanded the support base for Colorado
conservation. Carhart was a relentless opponent of any transfer of
public lands to private hands. His eloquent yet venomous attacks on
Colorado stockmen and their attempts to gain control of National Forest
lands were the strongest attacks on grazing policies and wilderness
during the 1940s.20
Carhart's 1947 article for Trail and Timberline "Raiders on the
Range" is the best example of the dawning realization amongst Colorado
conservationists that Forest Service policies alone would not sufficiently
protect Colorado's wilderness. The article was preceded with a short
story of some disappointed Colorado wilderness enthusiasts who find all
is not well in Colorado's wilderness:
So you are going to climb South Maroon? The trail from
Snowmass is in bad shape because Forest Service funds
have been cut...Everythings [sic] fine under your rucksack until
you reach the big valley below...you stop, confronted by heavy
strands of new barbed wire and a sign: SOUTH MAROON SHEEP
RANCH PRIVATE PROPERTY! KEEP OUT!...So they got this
The article finished with a plea for readers to "Tell Your Congressman
You Don't Want [any] transfer of public lands [or] change in management
designed to curtail their present use."22 This statement was followed
by the addresses of Colorado's Senators and Representatives.23 The
article was so strong the CMC's Conservation Committee felt the need to
write a comment in the same issue relating their point of view regarding
the issue.24 The official CMC position supported Carhart's view while
attempting to mitigate the rhetoric so as not to offend Colorado's
ranchers. The fact that the Conservation Committee could not come out
and whole-heatedly support Carhart is indicative of what later
conservationists in the organization would view as lack of real motivation
to confront controversial conservation issues.25
Arthur Carhart and the CMC were not the only Coloradans
concerned with the possibility of loss of wilderness lands in the late
1940s. The Colorado Forestry and Horticulture Association was also
active in opposing the Colorado stockmen's attempt to infringe on Forest
Service lands. In September of 1947 the Association's president Gladys
C. Evans wrote a letter on behalf of the Association to Congressman
Frank Barrett, Chairman of the Public Lands Committee of the House of
The Colorado Forestry Association, since its inception in
1884, has consistently encouraged...the regulated and
conservative use of the resources of publicly-owned lands. This
Association stands firmly for maintaining the integrity of national
forests and their continued administration in the interests of the
people of the United States.26
While the conservationists of the 1940s were not radicals, they were
steadfast supporters of Colorado's wilderness. Some conservationists
working on the Wilderness Bill in the 1960s may have felt justified in
claiming that in Colorado before 1964 "no one had even heard of
wilderness conservation,"27 but the actions of the conservation groups
during the 1940s and into the 1950s demonstrate this simply is not true.
Without the continual support of Colorado's conservationists
leading up to the 1960s, there very well may not have been any
wilderness left for the more radical conservationists to work with. While
somewhat conservative in their actions by current standards, the
conservationists of the twenties, thirties, and forties played a vital role in
ensuring wilderness survived to grow and become legally protected.28
The cooperative relationship between Colorado's established
conservation organizations which had played an important role in early
wilderness designations would prove to be even more important as
wilderness legislation became the goal. By forming strong and active
conservation coalitions which presented a united front, Colorado
conservationists were able to influence federal legislation during the late
1950s and early 1960s.
The two decades prior to the wilderness act represent a period
of transition and learning for Colorado's conservation organizations.
Colorado conservationists would learn by following the example of
national organizations such as the Sierra Club, the Izaak Walton League,
and the Wilderness Society as they fought one of the major preservation
battles of the century in Colorado.29
One of the most important events for the national and Colorado
wilderness preservation movement would unfold in the early 1950s. The
location for this event was an isolated National Monument in extreme
northwestern Colorado on the Utah border. Dinosaur National Monument.
In the mid 1940s, the U.S. Department of Reclamation released a plan
for the Colorado River Project. This massive project included a dam in
Dinosaur National Monument which would completely flood a beautiful
canyon known as Echo Park. The plan came under fire from local people
as soon as it was announced. The first reaction of the citizens of
northwest Colorado was to organize "strong opposition."30
These initial rumblings of discontent were only the beginning of
what would come to be one of the most decisive battles in the
wilderness preservation movement. The "Echo Park Controversy," as the
fight over Dinosaur came to be known, was a crucial event in the
transition of the wilderness preservation movement:
The controversy brought together for the first time the nation's
preservation-minded organizations, and strengthened their
standing in American politics, paving the way for much
environmental legislation in the following decades.31
The controversy surrounding Echo Park and the national effort to
preserve it would serve as an example to Colorado conservation
organizations of how to combat future wilderness challenges within the
On the national level the Echo Park Controversy would polarize
America's wilderness advocates. The Sierra Club, the Wilderness
Society, the Izaak Walton League, and the National Audubon Society
would come to "represent a new force in society."32 These
conservation organizations were national in scope. The Sierra Club and
the Wilderness Society had a national membership with no local
chapters. The Izaak Walton League did have a system of local chapters,
Colorado had Izaak Walton Chapters as early as the 1920s.
In his 1986 dissertation, "The Echo Park Controversy and the
American Conservation Movement," Mark Harvey argues that the
controversy marked a crucial turning point for the American conservation
movement. Conservationists came to the realization in the post World
War II years that "material wealth and political self-interest had suddenly
taken precedence over protecting nature.33 The fear of "greed and self-
interest" toward America's wilderness led to a sense in the early 1950s
that a crisis situation existed.34
The new crisis mentality which pervaded the conservationists
during this period was also much in evidence in the Colorado
conservation community. The Echo Park controversy brought out the
best in many of Colorado's conservationists. It also indicated some
serious weaknesses of Colorado's wilderness advocates.35 Not only
conservationists were stirred up by the controversy, a new wider
audience of individuals from across the state were won over to the
conservationist side by this emotional struggle.
Along with a greater public awareness of conservation issues
came a greater awareness among individuals within the Colorado
conservation community that Colorado was falling behind the national
organizations.36 The lagging response of Colorado's conservation
organizations to the Echo Park controversy spurred individuals to form
some new groups and to take some of the older groups in new
directions.37 The controversy also demonstrated the strength of the
opposition to wilderness when it conflicted with water projects. The
issue of water would unite many people in opposition of conservation of
areas which had potential as reservoirs. For many residents of arid areas
of Colorado and the West securing an adequate water supply took
precedence over all else. Water was crucial to development and many
people felt that without reservoirs like the proposed Echo Park Dam
Colorado's economic future was in jeopardy.38
The most important aspect of the Echo Park controversy was the
response of America's conservationists to the controversy. By forming a
powerful coalition and utilizing new techniques such as mass mailings
and letter-writing campaigns, the conservationists gained political
clout.39 Conservationists were able to engineer a major public relations
coup, and in the process change some basic assumptions on the part of
the general public concerning large-scale development.
The notion that the massive public works projects of the post-war
period were a crucial part of the economy was not universally accepted.
In the case of many of the reclamation projects of the period, the
benefits to the general public were sometimes negligible.40
Like the conservation of a savings account, the preservation of
natural scenic areas requires the exercise of a kind of moral
stamina which is capable of resisting the temptation of
intermittent erosion which inevitably leads to the complete
destruction of something which was once of value.41
Conservationists were able to demonstrate the limited benefits of the
Echo Park project and illuminate the questionable justifications of the
federal government regarding the need and viability of the project. "They
appealed to a deep-rooted line of thought in the American mind.
denouncing self-interested monopolies that threatened the public
In 1950 the Echo Park Dam was approved along with other major
reclamation projects including Glen Canyon as a part of the Colorado
River Storage Project.43 From the standpoint of the West, the support
was overwhelmingly in favor of the projects. Colorado Congressman
Wayne Aspinall was one of the strongest supporters of the project.
Aspinall is a pivotal character in the history of conservation issues in
Colorado for he would come to be viewed by many conservationists as
wilderness's greatest adversary.44 Although the Echo Park Dam had
been approved in 1950, the storm of controversy over the next three
years led to its postponement in 1954. Members of the congress were
unable to ignore the overwhelmingly negative response to the project in
their mail, over eighty against for every one for.45
The controversy reached its high point in 1954 as the bill
containing the Echo Park Dam was going to be brought back during the
Eighty-Fourth Congress in 1955.46 In Colorado, once again Arthur
Carhart rose to the occasion to utilize his writing talents as the voice of
Colorado conservation. Carhart pulled no punches in his attacks of the
proponents of the Dinosaur project.47 In a 1954 article in the Denver
Post, one of many he wrote for the paper concerning Dinosaur, Carhart
blasted Interior Secretary Douglas McKay for offering money to be used
for recreational purposes in Dinosaur after it was a lake. "McKay is like a
man who dressed his wife in flour sack clothes all her life, then promises
her on her deathbed that he will buy a satin-lined casket and dress her
corpse in silks."48 Carhart echoed the sentiments of many of
Colorado's conservationists who were incredulous the advocates of the
Dam would use future recreation as an argument for flooding a fabulous
canyon which already had many recreational uses.
For Colorado's conservation organizations, the Echo Park Dam
was almost as controversial within the organizations as it was outside.
The CMC devoted an entire issue of Trail and Timberline to the
controversy and included a member survey to determine a course of
action.49 The essence of the controversy as it affected the CMC and
the conservation movement was summed up by Walter Pesman in the
same issue. "Important values are at stake. Dinosaur is a test case."50
Although Dinosaur was not a National Forest, it was a National
Monument. The controversy had direct implications for future
developments in Colorado wilderness. If a National Monument could be
submerged forever with questionable benefits for the public then what
would stop remote wilderness from being exploited in the future.
The result of the CMC reader poll on the Echo Park issue was
clearly against the dam. However, because only forty-four percent of
members participated it was judged the CMC would not take a stand on
the issue.51 This is a remarkable indication of the depth of controversy
surrounding this issue. A large percentage of Coloradans supported the
Dinosaur project and the CMC was afraid to step on any toes. Water
was a more compelling issue than grazing, mining, or any of the other
previous threats to wilderness which the club openly opposed.
Colorado's other conservation organizations also were reticent in
openly coming out against the project even though their members were
opposed. The Colorado Forestry and Horticulture Association, and the
newly formed Colorado Wildlife Federation were against the project but
also did not come out publicly against it.62 Individual conservationists
and national conservation organizations with members in Colorado were
the most unyielding opponents of the Echo Park Dam in Colorado. "It is
ill-advised, at this time, to ruin the spectacular results of nature's work of
centuries when it is far from being essential to the welfare of this nation
or of this area."53 The Izaak Walton League had nine active chapters
through out the state and worked closely with other national
organizations in helping to coordinate the local letter campaigns.54
The Colorado River Storage Project was finally signed into law on
April 11, 1956. The law was passed without the Echo Park Dam and,
according to Roderick Nash, "the American wilderness movement had its
finest hour."55 The diverse national advocates of wilderness
preservation had been united into a coherent and powerful lobby.58
As for Colorado's conservationists, the Echo Park controversy had
a two-fold impact. First it demonstrated the effectiveness and power
conservationists could wield if they were able to form coalitions and
reach out and educate the general public. Ignorance of the issues
surrounding conservation was the major stumbling block to gaining
converts and support for preservation in the 1950s and 1960s.57 By
educating the public concerning the economic and environmental facts
surrounding the Echo Park Dam conservationists were able to sway
public opinion and influence congress.
Second, the Echo Park controversy demonstrated the lack of
cohesive goals and objectives within the Colorado conservation
community. At the same time it demonstrated the extent and conviction
of individual conservationists. The highly politicized issue of reclamation
and water at the heart of Echo Park had caused Colorado's cautious
conservation organizations to pause. This wariness on the part of the
local organizations led the local organizations to inadvertently forfeit their
conservation leadership to the local chapters of the national
The lessons learned from Echo Park led many of Colorado's
conservation leaders to reexamine the role of local organizations in
wilderness preservation. The growth of political clout for preservation
organizations helped to elevate some of the timidness of groups such as
the CMC. According to Roderick Nash, "The successful defense of
Dinosaur...encouraged preservationists to press for a still more positive
affirmation of wilderness in American civilization."58 Colorado's
conservationists would take the Echo Park incident to heart and in the
next big fight, for wilderness law, Colorado's local conservation
organizations would join a national push for wilderness preservation.
1. Marjorie Peregrin. "Our Mountain Club Must Protect the Public
Lands," Trail and Timberline, no. 340 (April 1947): 64-66.
2. Gerald D. Nash. World War II and the West: Reshaping the
Economy. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990, p.145). For an
indepth look into the economic effects of World War II on the West this is
a good source. The information on environmental issues is limited to one
3. Walter Pesman. "Announcing the Formation of the Colorado
Forestry and Horticulture Association." The Green Thumb, 1, no.1 (February
4. Ibid, p. 3.
5. Bill Mounsey. Interview with author (July 6,1992). Mr. Mounsey
was an employee of the Wilderness Society in Colorado and traveled
throughout the state trying to generate support for wilderness legislation in
the early 1960s. Horticulture societies and garden clubs were sometimes
the only conservation organizations he found in small town Colorado.
6. Pesman, "Announcing the Formation of the Colorado Forestry and
Horticulture Association," pp. 1-3.
7. Nash, World War II and the West: Reshaping the Economy,
8. Both The Green Thumb and Trail and Timberline were read mostly
by residents of cities: Denver, Boulder, Pueblo, Grand Junction. Not until
the early 1960s would conservationists become motivated to take their
message to the rural areas of the state.
9. The splinter groups would begin forming mainly in the late 1950s.
10. The Colorado Year Book for the years 1945-1960 shows a
steady increase in visitors to Colorado National Forests through this time
11. By the 1990s overuse of wilderness by tourists would become
an issue. The wide-scale acceptance of wilderness by the 1990s has lead
to high use and high traffic in previously seldom visited areas.
12. George Kelly. "Is Our Colorado Landscape In Danger?" The Green
Thumb, 1, no.4 (July 1944): 10. George Kelly was one of Colorado's great
conservationists as well as characters. He devoted his life to the
beautification and conservation of the state. He was involved in numerous
conservation organizations and had radio and T.V. shows which dealt with
conservation and gardening. For more information on Kelly, see Dr. George
W. Krieger's "Four Brown Fingers and a Green Thumb." The Denver
Westerner's Roundup, (January-February 1992): 3-20.
13. Ibid, p.10.
15. Marc Reisner. Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its
Disappearing Water. (New York: Penguin Books, 1986). This book provides
a scathing commentary on U.S. reclamation policies.
16. Allin, The Politics of Wilderness Preservation, p.94 The
Wilderness Society was the main group working toward federal legislation
in this early period.
17. The CMC would spawn a number of conservation sub-groups,
and CMC members were often involved in many other local and national
18. Roger Fuehrer. Interview with author, Denver, Colorado (July 6,
19. Mounsey, Interview.
20. Arthur Carhart. Carhart's one man onslaught against the
Colorado Cattlemen began in March of 1947 with an article in Trail and
Timberline entitled "Raiders on the Range." no.339 (March 1947): 39-43.
Over the next two years Carhart produced a number of other similar articles
which were published nationally. "Who Says--Sell Our Public Lands In the
West?" American Forests, 53, no.4 (April 1947): 153-160. "Land Grab:
Who Gets Our Public Lands?" Atlantic Monthly, 182 (July-December 1948):
57-63. "Our Public Lands in Jeopardy." Journal of Forestry, 46,no.6 (June
21. Carhart. "Raiders on the Range." Trail and Timberline, no.339
(March 1947): p.39.
22. Ibid, p.43.
23. At the time Colorado's Senators were Edwin Johnson and
Eugene Millikin. The Representatives were J. Edgar Chenoweth, W.S. Hill,
Robert Rockwell, and John Carroll. As was usually the case with
Colorado's legislators these men were not conservationists and were much
more likely to side with the cattlemen and sheep ranchers than with the
conservation organizations no matter how eloquent their plea.
24. E.H. Brunquist. "The Point of View of the Conservation
Committee," Trail and Timberline, no. 339 (March 1947): 44. This editorial
comment on the subject of legislation to sell public lands, some of which
were wilderness or primitive areas, was very close to an apology for
Carhart's strong language and unwavering position. According to Brunquist
the CMC was trying to read "all we can on both sides of the issue."
25. Fuehrer, Interview. Fuehrer was Chairman of the CMC
Conservation Committee in the early 1960s. At the point when he began,
conservation in the CMC had not been a priority for a few years and Mr.
Fuehrer's perception was that the club had not taken a stand until this time.
In fairness to the Conservation Committee of 1947 it is important to note
that while they did feel compelled to issue the conciliatory statement for the
ranchers, they clearly did support Carhart and remained on the side of
conservation. For more on the CMC and this issue, see Marjorie Peregrine's
"Our Mountain Club Must Protect the Public Lands," Trail and Timberline,
no. 340 (April 1947): 64-66. This article is equally as strong as Carhart's
and is directed specifically at the CMC directors and members, "so let us
establish a policy, put it in writing and charge the officers of our Club to be
eternally vigilant," p.66.
26. Gladys C. Evans. "Association Defends National Forests." The
Green Thumb, 5,no.1 (January 1948): 20.
27. Fuehrer, Interview. Bill Mounsey had a similar memory of the
lack of conservation minded people in rural Colorado, although he
acknowledged the strong movement in Denver and Boulder.
28. For more on the Colorado Forestry and Horticulture Association's
wilderness conservation work during the 1940s, see the following. L.C.
Showmaker. "National Forest Wilderness Areas," The Green Thumb, 4,no.3
(May-June 1947): 22-27. C.A. Kutzleb. "Gore Range-Eagles Nest Wild
Area," The Green Thumb, 5,no.7 (July 1948): 8-9. George Kelly. "What
Does Colorado Need?" The Green Thumb, 6,no.8 (August 1949).
29. During the 1940s the main conservation groups were the
Colorado Mountain Club, the Colorado chapters of the Izaak Walton League,
the Colorado members of the Sierra Club, and the Colorado Forestry and
Horticulture Association. The national organizations which were
represented would gain in influence in the state during the 1950s by
assuming leadership of major wilderness battles in Colorado and elsewhere.
Members of Colorado's home grown groups such as the CMC often were
involved with the national organizations and there was much free exchange
of ideas and methods.
30. The Denver Post, (October 28, 1945): 16,sc.4. "Proposal to
Flood Dinosaur Reserve Arouses Protests. See also The Denver Post, (June
28,1950): 48. "Scenic Gorges to Be Flooded." This is another good article
which indicates that the project met with much initial skepticism from
Colorado residents, especially those who lived in the region.
31. Mark W.T. Harvey. "The Echo Park Controversy and the
American Conservation Movement," Dissertation, The University of
Wyoming, 1986. Preface. This dissertation is an excellent source for the
Echo Park Controversy. While national in scope it is very useful for gaining
insight into the national conservation organization's strategies which would
be emulated by Colorado groups.
32. Ibid, iv.
33. Ibid, vi.
35. Hugh E. Kingery. The Colorado Mountain Club: The First
Seventy-five Years of a Highly Individual Corporation. (Evergreen, CO:
Cordillera Press Inc., 1988), p.77 Kingery refers to the Echo Park