Cold Spring Mountain

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Beautiful and pristine. You don't have to be in there long to be able to disassociate yourself totally from civilization.

Richard Hinkel, Steamboat Springs

Wilderness Qualities
Cold Spring Mountain encompasses the southern flank of the O-wi-yu-kuts Plateau as it drops to Browns Park along the Green River. Rocky grass and sagebrush meadows characterize the higher elevations that are interspersed with stands of pinyon-juniper, aspen, limber pine, and Douglas fir. Numerous springs, from which the mountain gets its name, surface on top and support large numbers of elk, deer, and antelope. The area has one of the largest mountain lion populations in the state, as well as bighorn sheep, bobcats, golden eagles, peregrine falcons, and sage grouse -- a declining species proposed for listing as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. This area is very popular with big game hunters, and the Colorado Division of Wildlife has identified it as a trophy elk hunting area. Beaver Creek, a permanent stream that once supported a population of endangered cutthroat trout, cuts a dramatic canyon in the west end of the mountain.

Limestone Ridge, the dominant geological feature, forms the eastern end of the area. At an elevation of 8,636 feet, it abounds with magnificent vistas, intriguing geological formations, wildlife viewing, an array of fossils, wildflowers, five rare plant communities, and a sensitive species -- Parthenium ligulatum. Limestone Ridge drops into spectacular Irish Canyon, where 12 formations representing over 600 million years of geological history are exposed. In recognition of these geologic and botanic features, BLM designated Limestone Ridge as a Research Natural Area and Irish Canyon as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern.

Irish Canyon is also designated a Colorado Natural Area -- a separate state system that recognizes the finest examples of Colorado's original and unique landscapes. Sites qualifying as Colorado Natural Areas contain at least one unique or high quality feature of statewide significance such as a native plant community or habitat for rare plants or animals. Cold Spring Mountain is extraordinary because it encompasses much of Colorado's largest Natural Area -- Irish Canyon (13,500 acres). Irish Canyon is an outstanding example of a beheaded stream valley -- a canyon cut by a stream that was later captured by the adjacent stream drainage (Vermillion Creek). The Natural Area spans both Cold Spring Mountain and Vermillion Basin CPW units. The Natural Area includes a large playa wetland known as Irish Lakes, one of the only wetlands in far northwest Colorado.

Limestone Ridge is a second Colorado Natural Area in Cold Spring Mountain, and it supports three high quality native plant communities which are now rare in Colorado: curlleaf mountain mahogany woodlands, pinyon pine-Utah juniper woodlands with native bunchgrass understory, and limestone barrens communities. The limestone barrens contain cushion plants reminiscent of alpine tundra -- but at an elevation of just 8,400 feet. A regional endemic Penstemon yampaensis (Yampa beardtongue) is also found here.

Further east, the Matt Trail climbs from the valley floor to the mountain crest. This trail traces its origins to the days when cattle barons and rustlers dominated the region and is named after Matt Rash, a principal player in those times. Though it was bladed many years ago, it is now closed to vehicles and is slowly regenerating. Given its historical significance and present regeneration, these former uses do not significantly detract from the wilderness values of the area but rather lend a certain historical flavor to it.

Big Joe and Little Joe Basins, open parks in the forest that support both wildlife and cattle grazing, lie just east of the Matt Trail. These parks are important big game winter range, and provide critical habitat for elk during severe winters.

Evidence of prehistoric cultures is scattered throughout the area. Although this cultural resource has never been inventoried, there have been numerous significant finds, many worthy of listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

Resource Information
Six grazing allotments lie within Cold Spring Mountain. Approximately one-third of the area is closed to grazing by virtue of the steep rocky nature of the slopes and for protection of big game habitat.

BLM's energy and mineral resource evaluation concluded Cold Spring Mountain possesses moderate potential for oil and gas development. Cold Spring Mountain is part of the extremely complex subsurface geology of the Uinta Thrust Fault. Exploration wells would require 10,000 to 15,000-foot deep holes, and the BLM estimates large producible fields are unlikely to be discovered. There are no other identifiable mineral resources within the Cold Spring Mountain unit.

Beaver Creek is the area's only perennial stream. The unit's boundaries contain essentially all of its drainage within them. Otherwise, only short sections of ephemeral streams occur above the area's boundary.

Boundary Issues
The citizens' boundary proposal includes additions to BLM's WSA boundary that would encircle critical wilderness resources with well-defined topographic boundaries.

An addition of approximately 36,000 acres to the east of the Matt Trail encompasses Big and Little Joe Basins, Limestone Ridge, and portions of Irish Canyon. The added lands are by far the most ecologically important areas on Cold Spring Mountain, hosting many rare plant communities identified as having outstanding scientific value. Much of this area was part of the Cold Spring Mountain unit and the adjacent Limestone unit during BLM's Intensive Wilderness Inventory, but was subsequently dropped because of scattered livestock grazing improvements such as revegetating ways and stock ponds, as well as deteriorating fences and a ditch. Field investigation reveals that all developments are well screened and blend easily into the natural environment, with the ways deteriorating into game and cattle trails.

A second addition of 1,480 acres of BLM and 1,280 acres of Colorado State and Division of Wildlife lands is proposed for the upper reaches of Beaver Creek Canyon and east of Cold Spring Peak. This inclusion would more completely protect the area by including the steep upper canyon walls and valuable riparian habitat. This boundary dilineation would create a logical topographic boundary, in contrast to the WSA's straight-line boundary along section lines, and would add three miles of the canyon. Finally there are also small additions of state lands totaling 320 acres on the northwest in Utah and 100 acres near Limestone Ridge on the east in Colorado.


cold spring
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 Rocky grass and sagebrush meadows characterize the higher elevations of Cold Spring Mountain.

The Cold Spring Mountain CWP has one of the largest mountain lion populations in the state.

(Kurt Kunkle)

Alpine-like vegetation found in Cold Spring Mountain.


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© 2006 Colorado Wilderness Network.