Rocky Mountain Chapter

Browns Canyon hike energizes support for wilderness protection

By Jim Lockhart

Pikes Peak Group Outings Chair

Browns Canyon Hike

Michael Brune and Family pictured with Sierra Club and local community leaders at Browns Canyon

I had the pleasure of leading Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune and his family on a short hike into the Browns Canyon proposed National Monument and Wilderness Area.

On June 13, the Brune family arrived at the Ruby Mountain trailhead as part of their 1,000-plus-mile trip to visit Colorado and the Southwest. Michael, his wife, Mary, and their three children, Olivia, Sebastian and Genevieve, combined a family vacation with visits to some of America’s most treasured and threatened wild areas,  including Browns Canyon, proposed for National Monument status by Senator Mark Udall and the recently-designated Chimney Rock National Monument.

Our group of 16, ranging in age from 9 months (the Brunes’ daughter Genevieve) to adult hiked for about 45 minutes through pinyon-juniper forest and past beautiful rock formations to a ridge top from which we viewed the whole of the Browns Canyon proposed wilderness. Browns Canyon, managed by the Bureau of Land Management, is located on the east side of the Arkansas River between Buena Vista and Salida.

It is a relatively low elevation, ranging between 7,500 and 8,500 feet and, therefore, would be a particularly valuable addition to a Colorado wilderness system which currently features mainly high mountains and western canyon lands. Although the proposed wilderness does not include the Arkansas River, the river would be part of the proposed National Monument. Its scenic values, enjoyed by thousands of rafters every year, would be protected by the wilderness designation.

At the end of the hike, I asked the group how many had visited a national park or monument.  Every hand was raised. I asked whether they thought Browns Canyon looked like a national monument. The response was again unanimous.

During the hike and afterwards, at the Ruby Mountain picnic area, we met and talked with local Browns Canyon activists, including Bill Dvorak, longtime rafting outfitter; Nick Watson from Veterans Expeditions; and Garrett Reppenhagen from Vet Voice Foundation, to discuss how to move forward with the Browns Canyon wilderness and national monument proposal. Sierra Club’s Alan and Nancy Apt and their son, Zack, and Rocky Mountain Chapter Director Joshua Ruschhaupt were also present representing the RMC.


I was planning to attend the hike as a participant, but was called in at the last minute to co-lead after the intended leaders, John and Carol Stansfield, were prevented from attending by the fires in the Colorado Springs area. They instead spent the day on pre-evacuation alert, waiting for the all-clear message. The hike was co-led by Drew Ball, a Sierra Club senior campaign representative who planned the Brune visit, including the Browns Canyon stopover. Special thanks to John and Carol for planning and organizing the hike.

The Browns Canyon National Monument and Wilderness proposal protects only a portion of the Browns Canyon Wilderness Study Area as wilderness. The proposal could be improved by protecting it all with the wilderness designation. A national monument designation would provide considerable protection, but would not necessarily rule out more intensive and intrusive activities, such as motorized recreation.  

To help the Sierra Club protect Browns Canyon, I encourage everyone to visit the Sierra Club website and sign the Browns Canyon petition. We suggest that you personalize your comments by adding the suggestion that wilderness designation encompass the full 20,000 acres proposed by the Friends of Browns Canyon and other statewide groups.


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