By Karin Teague
“River towns” are common in the Colorado Rockies—“two-gold-medal-river towns” are not. Basalt’s Fryingpan and Roaring Fork Rivers, which converge in the downtown core, not only define our town geographically and support world-class fishing, they bring ospreys, bighorn sheep, and myriad other birds and wildlife to our doorstep; keep us attuned to the seasons with their sometimes gentle, sometimes furious flows; and grace us with beauty every day.
How is it our small town came to be doubly blessed, with two abundantly alive rivers? The answer lies upstream, at the headwaters, where the rivers emerge from pristine snowfields, verdant landscapes, and some of the cleanest air in the lower forty-eight. The answer lies in Wilderness.
Wilderness, that is, with a capital “W,” whose designation was made possible by an act of Congress passed over fifty years ago. The Wilderness Act of 1964 was conceived to protect our most pristine lands from industrial activity like oil and gas development, logging, road building, and the use of motorized vehicles, activities that lead to noise, air, and water pollution, habitat fragmentation, and degradation of the landscape.
Upon passage of the Wilderness Act, a group of local citizens led by the famed “Maroon Belles,” Dottie Fox, Joy Caudill and Connie Harvey, saw an incredible opportunity and got busy walking the landscape and creating maps of potential Wilderness areas. Over the next thirty years, this same group, who would become the local non-profit, Wilderness Workshop, helped secure Congressional designation for what would eventually total nearly a half-million acres of Wilderness surrounding Basalt and the Roaring Fork Valley.
These permanently protected mountains, forests and watersheds act as a natural buffer that keeps our skies crystal-blue by day and starry at night. They are home to a half-dozen 14,000-foot peaks, hundreds of lakes, almost 500 species of wildflowers, and uncountable numbers of black bear, elk, pika, mountain goats, and other iconic Rocky Mountain wildlife. One of these Wilderness areas—the Hunter-Fryingpan—holds the headwaters of our two rivers.
And we in Basalt enjoy unparalleled access to it. Just a short, scenic drive along either river leads to dozens of trails heading into Wilderness. Once there you can revitalize your mind, body and spirit by, among other things: Immersing yourself in silence; being awed by beauty; engaging all five senses; reconnecting with the wider world; re-finding your body’s natural walking rhythm; letting time fall away; reengaging your spirit of adventure and discovery; translating the spaciousness of the landscape into spaciousness of mind; or simply resting in gratitude.
Time spent in Wilderness is the perfect antidote to our plugged-in, fast-paced lives and, along with our rivers, is one of the best reasons to live in or visit Basalt. And what better way to celebrate the Wilderness Act than to get out in Wilderness and see where our two magnificent rivers come from?