Eagle, Summit commissioners: On Colorado Public Lands Day, protect Camp Hale and the Continental Divide (column)
The Centennial State was the first state in the nation to establish a public lands holiday, and on Saturday, May 19, we will be celebrating the second annual Colorado Public Lands Day.
This is a holiday when Coloradans honor the positive impact public lands have on our economy and way of life. The day has significant meaning to residents in Summit and Eagle counties, as public lands are the cornerstones of our local economies.
Whether it is horseback riding, winter sports, hiking and biking, hunting and fishing, camping and climbing or rafting and paddling, people flock to our counties for our incredible outdoor recreation opportunities.
Recently, Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Jared Polis introduced a bill that would sustain our outdoor recreation economies and protect more public lands for future generations. The Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness and Camp Hale Legacy Act would conserve key parts of the White River National Forest as wilderness, wildlife conservation areas and recreation management areas. The bill would also designate World War II’s legendary Camp Hale as the country’s first National Historic Landscape.
The legislation would safeguard clean water, preserve critical wildlife habitat and protect access for favorite multi-use trails in places such as the Tenmile Mountains. Importantly, it would honor our nation’s World War II veterans who not only helped win the war but also returned home to start our state’s world-renowned ski industry.
For years, our two counties have listened to our constituents — sportsmen, ranchers, mountain bikers, small-business owners, veterans, outdoor recreationists, musicians, artists and conservationists — and have been strongly on the record in support of the Continental Divide effort.
Now, we are inviting Sen. Cory Gardner to add his support to this bill. There is no better time for Sen. Gardner to sign on as a co-sponsor to the Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness and Camp Hale Legacy Act. Colorado Public Lands Day is a day when we give back to the lands that give us so much, and these lands deserve protection. His support would help move this important bill through Congress and show that protecting public lands is the key to continuing to grow our sustainable outdoor recreation economy.
One doesn’t need to look far to see the strong connection between public lands and Colorado’s economy. Our state’s 24 million acres of public lands support a bustling outdoor recreation economy that provides $28 billion to our state and 229,000 jobs every year, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. And a Conservation in the West poll found that 96 percent of Coloradans think the outdoor recreation economy is important to our economic future. This is just one reason why the Outdoor Retailer tradeshow decided to move from Utah to Colorado.
But Colorado Public Lands Day is more than just about the economy — it is about our values and way of life. Our public lands are how we define ourselves. For example, an earlier Conservation in the West poll from 2015 found that 90 percent of Coloradans said that our state’s clean air, clean water and environment were a factor in choosing to live here, and 75 percent in the 2018 poll consider themselves conservationists.
We need to invest in what makes Colorado great, and our public lands are a meaningful way to start. All across the state on Saturday May 19, communities will be restoring their favorite trails, cleaning up their crystal-blue lakes and reconnecting with their friends and families on our public lands.
Another way to honor Colorado Public Lands Day is to support the Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness and Camp Hale Legacy Act. We join the nearly 100 small businesses and thousands of individuals in thanking Sen. Bennet and Rep. Polis for introducing this important bill and invite Sen. Cory Gardner to add his support to this legislation protecting our public lands and honoring our veterans.
Kathy Chandler-Henry is an Eagle County commissioner, and Dan Gibbs is a Summit County commissioner.
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