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If ranchers and environmentalists can get along, why not recreationists?

Gary Sprung of Crested Butte has been in the news lately as a member of the group working with Bruce Babbitt on proposals to improve public rangelands while maintaining a viable Western ranching culture as well as recreation opportunities and trail access.

By Gary Sprung
Editor, International Mountain Bicycling Association News (1998)

Map of Ohio

I have a second job as President of High Country Citizens' Alliance, a 16-year-old environmental group serving the upper Gunnison River basin in Gunnison County. Over the years we have developed a strong relationship with the local ranchers.

Their group, the Gunnison County Stockgrowers' Association is 100 years old in 1994. Our cooperation has led us to the top levels of government to work on the problem of public lands livestock grazing reform.

We are currently engaged in a series of weekly meetings of ranchers and environmentalists with Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and Governor Roy Romer. A joint proposal for grazing reform developed by HCCA and the Stockgrowers is at center stage in these discussions.

Cooperation has taken us to a point that fighting could never have reached. It's quite an amazing situation. After such long animosity, for ranchers and environmentalists to not only talk, but also work together... that's hot! It brings real power.

The same can be true for recreationists. Mountain bicyclists can get along with hikers, equestrians, and motorized users. We don't have to agree on everything, but we do have to respect each other and strive for compromise and consensus whenever possible. It takes a lot of communication, personal time, and energy. It's exciting work and it's essential to future fun for all trail users.

Mountain bicyclists actually played a crucial role in the growth of rancher-environmentalist cooperation. For a while in the mid-80s, environmentalists and ranchers discussed similar problems concerning impacts from large numbers of new backcountry recreationists on mountain bikes. Then the ranchers and mountain bicyclists decided to work out a solution: an education program which succeeded.

In 1989, Range Rider Barb East— also a fabulous western and cowboy painter— wrote, illustrated, and published a brochure titled Crested Butte's High Country: To Share and Enjoy. Local bike shops provided funding, along with the U. S. Forest Service and BLM. Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association provided guidance and support.

The brochure later was reprinted to serve all of Colorado's high country. Conflict between the two groups decreased noticeably and quickly. When ranchers later complained about trespassing parachutists and hang gliders, they suggested that the aerialists should follow the good example set by bicyclists.

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