Sheep Mountain is one of the largest, undeveloped roadless areas in Colorado not designated as Wilderness. It includes the popular trail to Ice Lake Basin, cherished for its many lakes nestled in expansive fields of wildflowers and bordered by slopes and peaks streaked with color. The area takes in the headwaters of South Mineral Creek, just outside the Bonita Peak Mining District where hardrock mines have long polluted the Animas River headwaters.
Sheep Mountain has been long recognized for its wilderness character, with citizen wilderness proposals dating to the 1970s. Several incompatible activities in the form of heli-skiing and the use of Hope Lake as part of Excel Energy’s Ames hydroelectric project preclude full-fledged wilderness designation. The bill would, however, create a Special Management Area, similar to the 2014 Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Area, to protect it against future mining of the type that has long polluted the Animas and from new road construction. The designation applies to lands in San Juan and San Miguel counties, but in the future additional area in adjacent Dolores County could be added.
Photo: Jason Hatfield