30 Great Places: Thompson Divide

Region: Southern Rockies
Activities: Hunting, Fishing
Species: Elk; cutthroat, brown and rainbow trout

Where: The Thompson Divide encompasses 221,000 acres of public land within the White River National Forest in Pitkin, Garfield and Mesa counties, just south of the Roaring Fork Valley in west-central Colorado.

Why: The Divide is home to one of America’s most prodigious elk herds and the headwaters to some of Colorado’s most storied trout fisheries, including the Roaring Fork, the Crystal and the North Fork of the Gunnison. “Thompson Divide may not be a household name, but it has tremendous recreational values,” said Tyler Baskfield, Colorado Sportsman Coordinator for Trout Unlimited. “There aren’t any shops selling rubber tomahawks on the way in. In that way, it reminds me of old Colorado. The mid-elevation forest here, all roadless, provides ideal habitat for a huge elk herd to propagate. It’s nice terrain, a perfect setting for your prototypical western big game hunt. You may not be successful, but you’ll have interactions…and you’ll see a bit of everything out there, including bear and mule deer.” Anglers will find plenty to keep them happy as well.

“In the headwaters of the Thompson Divide, you’ll find many smaller trout streams at higher elevation,” Baskfield continued. “You won’t find many monsters, but if you’re into catching natives in wild places away from the crowds, it’s hard to keep the fish off a bushy dry fly. It’s also the perfect place to introduce a child to wilderness fishing.”

Local Knowledge: Before you put together an elk hunt, reach out to Colorado Parks & Wildlife. “The folks at the CPW office in Glenwood Springs know the area very well, and can give you a sense of what’s going on,” Baskfield continued. “But contact them well in advance of the hunting season, as things get busy over there.”

TU Initiatives: There a number of oil and gas leases that threaten the wilderness character of the Divide, not to mention water quality. Trout Unlimited has been working with sporting groups and local officials to permanently withdraw 220,000 acres of the region from future energy development. This effort has led to the drafting of the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act, introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senator Michael Bennet.

Make a Difference: Hunters and anglers recognize that our country needs energy and we know it is possible to develop resources and protect vital fish and wildlife habitat at the same time. But we also know from experience that irresponsible development negatively impacts fish and wildlife populations and hunting and angling opportunities. Check out this report from Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development to learn more about responsible energy development and go to Standup.tu.org to tell decision makers to support policies that balance energy development with the conservation of fish and wildlife.

By Shauna Stephenson.