Colorado Outdoor Business Alliance meeting in Avon touts wilderness, renewal of Land and Water Conservation Fund |

Colorado Outdoor Business Alliance meeting in Avon touts wilderness, renewal of Land and Water Conservation Fund

A map showing the nearly 100,000 acres of land that would be preserved under the Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness and Camp Hale Legacy Act, introducted by U.S. Rep. Jared Polis and Sen. Michael Bennet.
Daily file photo

Land and Water Conservation Fund

A recent report by the Center for Western Priorities found that from 2014 to 2017, the Land and Water Conservation Fund permanently conserved at least 491,000 acres in 42 states.

At least 223 proposed U.S. public land and Forest Legacy Land and Water Conservation Fund projects in 45 states are now on the line as a result of the program’s expiration.

Earlier this month, the House Committee on Natural Resources advanced legislation to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee plans to hold a markup of the conservation program this week, two days after it expires on Sunday, Sept. 30.

Secretary Ryan Zinke’s proposed fiscal 2019 budget for the Interior Department included a 95 percent cut for appropriations for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Learn more about the fund at

Source: Center for Western Priorities

AVON — A meeting of local business owners, policymakers and concerned citizens at Loaded Joe’s restaurant and bar on Tuesday night, Sept. 25, turned into a bit of a history class on the role Vail’s founders played in preserving surrounding wilderness areas such as Eagles Nest, Holy Cross and the Flat Tops.

“We don’t exist without public lands — my town, my business, Vail ski resort. None of it exists without public lands, and I think it’s absolutely imperative that everybody realizes this legacy is something that we’ve inherited and that we have to protect; otherwise, we’re not going to have it,” said Jonathan Staufer, owner of Grappa Fine Wine & Spirits in Vail.

Staufer’s father, Joe, was among the many Vail pioneers who helped spearhead the wilderness area preservation efforts of the 1970s and ’80s. And Vail benefactor, frequent visitor and Beaver Creek homeowner Gerald Ford, the 38th president of the United States, signed the Flat Tops wilderness bill into law.

Tuesday’s meeting, coordinated by Conservation Colorado’s Colorado Outdoor Business Alliance, highlighted the critical role outdoor recreation businesses have played in shaping the proposed Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness and Camp Hale Legacy Act, which would provide wilderness protections for an additional 98,621 acres of public land.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis has sponsored the bill in the House, along with Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet in the Senate, but it has yet to get a committee hearing in either chamber of the Republican-controlled Congress. Tuesday’s meeting also focused on Trump administration policies seen as anti-conservation and pro-development of the nation’s public lands.

Letter unveiled

The Colorado Outdoor Business Alliance used the occasion to unveil a letter from 100 of the state’s outdoor businesses to Colorado policymakers urging them to push Congress for full and permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is set to expire on Sunday, Sept. 30.

Since the 1960s, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has collected revenues from offshore oil and gas drilling and used them to conserve public lands and waterways. Since its inception, the fund has provided more than $260 million for projects ranging from the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area and Cross Mountain Ranch on the Yampa River to urban parks such as Montbello Open Space Park.

“What’s really amazing about this program is that it spans all across the country, from local government to state government all the way to the national level,” Colorado Outdoor Business Alliance organizer Beau Kiklis said. “So, it does everything from protecting our national parks by purchasing inholdings and creating access to state-level and local projects like bike paths that run along rivers, city parks, basketball courts, baseball diamonds.”

Local businesses signing the Colorado Outdoor Business Alliance letter include Cirque Mountain Apparel in Eagle-Vail, QuietKat all-terrain, electric mountain bikes in Eagle and Weston Snowboards in Minturn. Notably, Aspen Skiing Co. — often out front on issues of conservation and climate change — also signed the letter. Vail Resorts is not one of the signatories.

But Vail Resorts does officially back the Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness and Camp Hale Legacy Act, and several of the attendees on Tuesday expressed their desire for public lands preservation efforts to be nonpartisan and based on the economics of the growing outdoor recreation industry.

“It shows that this really should not be a partisan thing — this is a Colorado thing,” said state Rep. Dylan Roberts, a Democrat who lives in Eagle and represents Eagle and Routt counties in the State Legislature. “This is an economic thing, and we all need to start thinking on that level and not politics. There were several Republicans here tonight — some more vocal than others.”

Republican publisher Michael Cacioppo, who unsuccessfully ran for Roberts’ seat in 2016 — partly on a platform of using public lands for workforce housing — turned the conversation to population growth and just how many more residents Eagle County can handle.

Another Republican businessman, Michael Dunahay — who in 2016 unsuccessfully sought an Eagle County commissioner seat — said he’s a lifelong conservationist who fully supports the Continental Divide wilderness bill.

“This wilderness bill should be a no-brainer,” Dunahay said. “When Jared Polis first started this 10 years ago, I remember walking different sections of it and talking to people. So what’s a hundred thousand acres of Colorado? What difference does that make to anybody? This should be passed; there should be nobody against it. It should be passed immediately.”

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