Vail Daily column: Celebrating National Forests on Colorado Public Lands Day | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Celebrating National Forests on Colorado Public Lands Day

Robert G. Cole, Beth Ganz and Bernie Weingardt
Valley Voices

Sometimes referred to as "Colorful Colorado," our state is well known for its beautiful landscapes, high-elevation peaks and outdoor lifestyle. To formally recognize these irreplaceable scenic values, Colorado is the first state to have officially established a day celebrating the importance of public lands. Colorado Public Lands Day, championed by State Sen. Kerry Donovan, was passed by the Colorado General Assembly in 2016 and signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper. It's celebrated on the third Saturday of each May, and the inaugural celebration happened this year on Saturday.

What does this mean to Coloradans? There are iconic national parks, drawing visitors from around the world, and wonderful state and county parks that offer beauty and respite. There are also the incredible landscapes managed by the U.S. Forest Service, which provide more than 14.5 million acres of recreation and wilderness opportunities across the state and truly provide Colorado its outdoor-adventure identity.

When driving west on Interstate 70 through the overpass portal at Lookout Mountain, it's our National Forests that greet us with the most splendid view of the snowcapped backbone of America. The mountains of our National Forests, Pikes Peak, James Peak and the Rampart Range pull us home as we return from eastern adventures.

These lands are incredible economic assets, a point not lost on the Colorado General Assembly. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, a majority of Colorado residents participate in outdoor recreation each year, and millions more visit to ski, hike, fish, hunt and enjoy the iconic landscapes, high-elevation vistas and diversity of opportunities, contributing billions of dollars to our economy each year. These lands also provide critical water resources to our state, powering agriculture and industry and slaking the thirst of millions of the state's residents.

On a personal level, our National Forests provide a welcome escape on a hot summer's eve from the Front Range hustle. They give us "take your breath away" views that we are proud to show our visiting friends and relatives. In National Forests, we experience the exhilaration of a warm fall day, with blazing-yellow aspens all aglow, and the excitement of a native cutthroat trout rising to meet a well-tied fly.

National Forests are where we go to feel the first cold frost of oncoming winter and hear the bugle of the great bull elk. Our National Forests are where we choose to ski though fresh powder under the screaming blue Colorado sky. When you summit your first 14er and feel the thrill of standing on top of the world, it's yet another gift from our National Forests.

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But these gifts require nurturing. The National Forest Foundation, along with many other conservation partners and the U.S. Forest Service, is stepping up to generate funding and develop innovative, collaborative partnerships for the benefit of these public lands. As the only nonprofit organization specifically dedicated to our National Forests and Grasslands, the National Forest Foundation promotes the enhancement and public enjoyment of these treasured lands. Each year, the National Forest Foundation restores fish and wildlife habitat; plants trees in areas affected by fires, insects and disease; improves recreational opportunities and empowers communities to steward their national forests and grasslands.

We hope you had the chance to celebrate all of Colorado's amazing public lands — especially our National Forests and Grasslands — on Saturday, the inaugural Colorado Public Lands Day. We encourage you to get outside, go play and make memories on your public lands every day. Every resident, visitor, town and business can play a part in protecting and celebrating our public lands. Learn more at http://www.nationalforests.org.

Beth Ganz, vice president of public affairs and sustainability for Vail Resorts, and Robert G. Cole, an attorney with Collins Cockrel & Cole, serve on the Board of Directors for the National Forest Foundation. Bernie Weingardt is a retired regional forester with the U.S. Forest Service and chairs the National Forest Leadership Council of the National Forest Foundation.