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).