1968: Secretary Freeman I-70 Decision
In the 1960s, federal and state highway planners sought to complete routes for the
new Interstate Highway System that would connect all major metropolitan areas of
the United States. One of the unresolved routes at that time was for Interstate
70 between the Colorado cities of Denver and Grand Junction.
In the heart of the mountains, just west of the Continental Divide, the Colorado
Department of Highways favored a crossing over Red Buffalo Pass. This route was
nearly 11 miles shorter than an existing highway crossing over Vail Pass, but Red
Buffalo Pass lay within the Arapaho and White River National Forests' Gore Range-Eagle
Nest Primitive Area. The primitive area was established in 1933, and in 1941 was
reduced in size to accommodate the construction of U.S. Highway 6 over Vail Pass.
As many Colorado-bound skiers who have driven I-70 over Vail Pass can attest, Secretary
Freeman chose to protect the primitive area. Freeman's 1968 remarks were very clear:
"My decision is to preserve the Gore Range-Eagle Nest area by denying permission
to build Interstate 70 over the Red Buffalo route."
Freeman grounded his decision in long-term, utilitarian views, and also voiced support
for protecting the integrity of existing wilderness areas: "Through 4 decades,
this Department has maintained that the National Forest Wilderness System should
not be invaded -- even for important purposes -- if there is a feasible alternative.
We have rejected the pleas of miners who would shatter the wilderness calm with
the roar of helicopters because such use would make their work easier and more efficient.
We have used primitive equipment and travel methods in administering Wilderness
when modern motorized equipment would have been more convenient. I have urged the
Kennecott Copper Corporation to forego development of large copper deposits in favor
of the priceless, yet intangible, national treasures of the Glacier Peak Wilderness
in Washington. I have consistently resisted efforts to cut the heart out of the
San Gorgonio Wilderness in California for a winter sports development. We held then,
and we hold now, that economics alone is not a sufficient basis for determining
whether wilderness shall survive or die.
This philosophy has guided me in this decision. All of the National Forest resources
must be utilized in the combination that best meets the needs of the American people.
We have all the land now that we will ever have. As administrators of these lands,
we must resolve conflicts in the interest of the greatest number of people in the
long run, which is what I have attempted to do today."
Statement by Orville L. Freeman, Secretary of Agriculture, "Decision
on the Request by the Colorado Department of Highways to Route Interstate Highway
70 through the Gore Rang - Eagle Nest Primitive Area, Arapaho and White River National
Forests," (ca. 1968).