Bennet floats through Eagle County
BOND — The theory goes, if more people use the river, then more people care about the river.
Eagle County’s Open Space Program has been a firm believer in that adage for a while now, and on Thursday, it got a chance to demonstrate the idea to Sen. Michael Bennet, who is currently on recess from Congress.
“We always offer to take him out on the river, and he finally took us up on it,” said Toby Sprunk, with Eagle County Open Space.
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Putting in at the recently developed State Bridge boat launch, Bennet enjoyed a four-mile float down the Colorado River through Eagle County, witnessed a bald eagle tending to its youngling and ended the day a firm believer in the theory.
“You get out here and you see it for the first time … that builds public sentiment that supports the public lands that we have and the wilderness we treasure in Colorado and throughout the West,” he said. “There can be real divisions when it comes to water in our state … But we’ve got people coming together all over the state to say ‘this is a vanishing resource; we have to find a way to protect it. We know we’ve got multiple uses for it, and we’re not going to be able to do anything if we don’t collaborate and cooperate.’”
CONSERVATION AND RECREATION
Eagle County used open space purchases and conservation easements to purchase the put in and take out areas Bennet used and protect some of the riparian areas along the river he enjoyed.
The effort is part of a Colorado River Conservation and Recreation plan, which was established in 2011 with a goal of increasing recreational access to the river, conserving properties along the river, and acquiring land which would help facilitate overnight and float trips.
“We have over 50 miles of Colorado River through the county, and most of that use is concentrated from State Bridge upstream,” Sprunk told Bennet on Thursday. “Our plan was to identify and ultimately acquire six properties — we’ve actually gone beyond that now — but State Bridge and Two Bridges (where Bennet’s float ended on Thursday) were the two that were ranked by local fishing outfitters and rafting guides as the two most important because of the extent to which they would provide multiple new float trip opportunities from here on down the stream.”
Areas downstream from Eagle County and the state of Colorado is where Bennet has been trying to find support for Colorado River issues, he said on Thursday.
“The pitch that I make to people back in Washington is that if you are downstream from the Colorado, then you need to care about what’s happening to the watersheds in Colorado,” he said.
ENDING FIRE BORROWING
Another area of local focus for Bennet is to help the U.S. Forest Service free up its budget from the squeeze that’s being placed on the system from forest fire suppression. Bennet said he’s been spending a big part of the August recess working on forest health issues.
“We have got to put an end to this fire borrowing at the Department of Agriculture and the Forest Service,” he said. “These guys don’t have the budget they need to do the fire mitigation that needs to happen in our forests, so that we don’t spend all the money fighting forest fires, which is what’s happening now.”
Bennet is currently co-sponsoring the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2015, along with Sen. Cory Gardner, also from Colorado.
“This September we’re going back to try to reorganize the way that program works, and to try to get it funded properly,” Bennet said.
It would be really hard to spark a wildfire anywhere near Vail Mountain or Beaver Creek right now. Still, unattended campfires will always draw attention.