Vail Daily column: Fighting for our natural heritage | VailDaily.com

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Vail Daily column: Fighting for our natural heritage

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You could say that serving my country is in my blood. As a third generation veteran, I always knew that I would follow in the footsteps of my father and grandfather. You could also say that speaking out for the causes I believe in is also in my blood. Because with military service comes a deep love and respect for our country, and all that makes her great.

A big part of what makes America so special is our public lands. They are our natural heritage — an iconic patchwork of beauty dotting the country from coast to coast. They are lands that serve as home for wildlife, a recreation haven and an economic powerhouse. Our lands and waters are also a place where veterans can go to find strength and healing after coming home from tours overseas.

Recently, Rep. Jared Polis introduced legislation to safeguard roughly 58,000 acres of public land in Eagle and Summit counties. The Continental Divide Wilderness and Recreation Act came after years of hard work and cooperation from different stakeholders including mountain bikers and snowmobilers, hunters and anglers, local elected officials and small business owners, and veterans like me.

The legislation will protect key watersheds which provide drinking water for local communities along the Front Range. It will also safeguard local streams and blue-ribbon trout fishing opportunities. And it will preserve healthy wildlife habitat by limiting road building, new mines and other development that would degrade watershed values. Speaking of wildlife, these areas are home to black bear, elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, moose, lynx and wild turkey.

People come to the central Rocky Mountains to hike, camp, ski, kayak, raft, hunt, fish, mountain bike, horseback ride, ATV and snowmobile. Those adventures translate into big business for the outdoor recreation and tourism industries and the hotels, restaurants and grocery stores that support the visitors. Across Colorado, these activities generate $13.2 billion in consumer spending and are responsible for 125,000 jobs that pay $4.2 billion in salaries and wages.

It seems like everyone has their reasons for wanting to safeguard these natural treasures for future generations. For me, it is because that is where veterans like me go to be with family and friends and heal from the traumas of war. These are the places where we reconnect with our loved ones and learn how to be civilians again. It is where we go to be with other veterans to share our experiences and leave them behind.

A 2013 poll by Vet Voice Foundation found that over 70 percent of Colorado veterans support protecting public lands like the ones in Eagle and Summit counties so future generations can enjoy all that these lands have to offer.

I want to thank Rep. Polis for his leadership on protecting public lands and introducing the Continental Divide Wilderness and Recreation Act, and I hope Congress listens to our voices and moves this legislation forward. Fighting for our country does not always end when we come home. For me it means now fighting for our shared natural heritage.

Garett Reppenhagen is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He lives in Denver.

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