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Donovan: Outdoor funding essential to Colorado’s economic recovery

Kerry Donovan
Valley Voices

The balance of sacrifice is learning what we value. The coronavirus has forced us all to sacrifice — some more than others. In the High Country, we have lost friends. Neighbors have lost their jobs or their business as employment soars towards 50%. And while we remain focused on the current task of taking care of each other, it is hard to not think of recovery as we try to pass another day of staying indoors, staring out as a powder day goes unskied or a bluebird sky passes by through the window instead of on the trail.

So many of us moved or stayed in Colorado because of our public lands — the famous national landscapes or the secret BLM corner. I’ve found myself missing these places as I adhere to the guidelines we are all asked to follow to break the chain of transmission. Longing for the spring canyon escape or the winter snowshoe in silent forests, the sacrifice has reminded me how much I value our public lands. 

And not only do our public lands provide a chance for renewal and escape or laughing with our friends around a trailhead, they drive the economy of so many towns across Colorado and the nation. From guide services to gear shops, from ski resorts to hut trips, there is no denying that our recovery from the coronavirus will rely on making sure our public lands are robustly supported.

Without the federal government supporting the foundation of public lands, we cannot expect the businesses built upon them to recover. Full funding for America’s most important conservation program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, is a cornerstone of supporting our public lands. As Congress negotiates the next stimulus package for economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s essential that they include this legislation as an indispensable ingredient. 

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This is an emotional time, filled with uncertainty at the highest levels.  What we do know is that the current circumstances remind us how important public lands are for our well-being and quality of life. This fact will be the key to our recovery because as soon as social distancing restrictions ease and then cease, people will be back in record numbers to refresh in and enjoy our great outdoors as many of us in the mountains have been doing over the past several weeks.

When they do come, people will once again be shopping for outdoor gear and clothing in our towns, staying at our lodges, eating at our restaurants and availing themselves of every other possible service we have to create the best possible outdoor recreation and tourist experience. Moreover, outdoor recreation is such a potent economic driver, a force that could easily be a leader in the national economic recovery. But without fully funding the LWCF, how can we expect a half supported public system to support a fully recovered outdoor recreation economy?

What LWCF has done for towns like ours all over the nation is virtually incalculable. Nationally, LWCF investments have been at work for over five decades conserving irreplaceable landscapes and cultural heritage sites which play an enormous role in building an $887 billion national outdoor recreation economy, supporting 7.6 million American jobs. In Colorado alone, the program has protected treasured places like Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado National Monument, and more locally Taylor River Canyon Park, Silver Lake and Cucumber Gulch Recreation Areas — all contributing to Colorado’s lucrative $28 billion annual outdoor recreation economy. 

Today, we balance the need to focus on the immediate goal of disrupting the spread of COVID-19 while planning for robust and urgent recovery. Investing in our public lands now by fully funding the LWCF will help small businesses across the state have a foundation for reopening. And the story for towns in Colorado is true for places across our nation that depend on public lands. Be it a battlefield or national forest, a fully funded LWCF means the public land jewels a town depends upon will shine brightly when we move into recovery mode. For all of us dreaming and planning our next trip outdoors, we urge Congress to invest in us, invest in public lands, and fully fund the LWCF.

Kerry Donovan is Colorado’s State Senator representing Senate District 5, comprised of Chafee, Delta, Eagle, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Lake, and Pitkin counties. She is a strong advocate for public lands protection and believes that public lands are the soul and the economic engine of communities in Colorado and across America.


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