In Vail, swamp monsters protest Interior Secretary David Bernhardt |

In Vail, swamp monsters protest Interior Secretary David Bernhardt

Public-lands activists extend metaphor from D.C., rally before Berhardt's keynote address to governors

Calen Golas, left, and Jordan Beckman pilot a raft down Gore Creek wearing masks in protest of Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, who was scheduled to speak at the Western Governors' Association meeting Monday in Vail.
Chris Dillmann |

VAIL — Swamp monsters were stunting on Gore Creek on Monday in a demonstration that took some serious skill.

Wearing masks in homage to the background character at Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt’s March confirmation hearing, the paddlers simultaneously resembled the swamp creatures from that viral moment, adept whitewater specialists with their ability to surf the swift water, and Tusken Raiders from “Star Wars” celebrating a victory as they pumped their paddles overhead.

The crowd went wild.

That crowd was comprised of about 60 people from Eagle County, Summit County, Lake County, Fort Collins, Boulder and Denver. The group included representatives from various groups, including the Sierra Club, Environment Colorado and Wilderness Workshop.

Wearing t-shirts that said: “Keep your oily hands off Colorado public lands,” the group was gathered in an attempt to send a message to Bernhardt, who was scheduled to be the first main speaker at this week’s meeting of the Western Governors’ Association in Vail.

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“We’re out here letting David Bernhardt know that his policies don’t align with the priorities of the people in Colorado,” said Emily Gedeon, conservation program director with the Colorado Sierra Club.

High water

Another goal, of course, was to extend the swamp monster metaphor from D.C. to the West.

“During Secretary Bernhardt’s confirmation hearing in front of the Senate, some brave public lands conservation climate activist wore a swamp monster mask to sit behind him,” Gedeon said. “This is kind of a call back to how Trump said he would drain the swamp, but putting an oil and gas lobbyist in charge of the department of the interior is like putting the swamp monster right in charge.”

Vail Fire & Emergency Services got a call saying the boaters were going to be using sub-standard equipment, and a swift water rescue team was assembled just in case.

Upon seeing the boaters take to the whitewater, members of the fire department said they could tell right away that they were experienced paddlers.

The original swamp monster protestor at Bernhardt’s confirmation hearing.

“Gore Creek is so high right now. We wouldn’t want someone inexperienced being out on it,” Gedeon said.

‘Huge problem for people in Colorado’

It wasn’t difficult to find people in opposition to Bernhardt’s policies who were also expert whitewater rafters and kayakers, Gedeon said.

“All of the kayakers are folks who were public lands activists, who were like, ‘What’s a way that I can use what I really love and what I’m really talented at and what I love about nature and the environment to help share a message,’” Gedeon said. “And so this was a great way to get people involved.”

Specifically, Gedeon said their group would like to see a reversal of a proposal to cut the Land and Water Conservation Fund budget by 95 percent. More locally, Gedeon said the Glenwood Springs residents in attendance were opposing the expansion of the Mid-Continent limestone quarry, and a majority of state residents do not want oil and gas development prioritized over conservation in Colorado.

“It’s a huge problem for people in Colorado, who have seen more than 200,000 acres of Colorado lands open up to oil and gas leasing since the beginning of the Trump administration,” Gedeon said.

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