EDITOR’S NOTE: U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, who chairs the U.S. Senate National Parks Subcommittee and serves on the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, wrote an op-ed column for the Chaffee County Times, marking the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act and reflecting on wilderness’s importance to Colorado’s special way of life.
COLO I Coloradans understand that we don’t inherit the earth from our parents. We borrow it from our children.
That covenant is woven into the fabric of the West, and it’s why protecting our public lands links us not only to our parents and grandparents, but also to the earliest days of Colorado and the rugged men and women who settled the West.
The story of our nation and the American West is an epic chronicle of exploration, ambition and grandeur. As Americans embraced Manifest Destiny — the famous travels of Lewis and Clark, Zebulon Pike, John Wesley Powell and all the lesser-known treks — they discovered stunning beauty and a landscape that would inspire the song “America the Beautiful” and countless other odes to our nation’s landscape.
Those whose paths crossed Colorado discovered everything from the vastness of the eastern plains to the tallest, snow-capped peaks to the red rock canyons of the Western Slope. Even today, these wild places inspire us and offer a place of refuge to seek the renewal that only nature can provide. We in Colorado understand that nature changes us and gives us perspective on life and what’s truly important.
As we mark the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act — which has been used to protect many of these breathtaking public lands — we should reflect not only on how wilderness is an essential part of Colorado’s special way of life, but also upon the work we still have to do.
One of the best examples of my ongoing effort to protect Colorado’s natural gems is my grassroots Browns Canyon National Monument and Wilderness Act, which would designate 22,000 acres surrounding the Arkansas River as the Browns Canyon National Monument, including 10,500 acres as Wilderness.
My bill would keep faith with the intent of the Wilderness Act and preserve visitor access and existing legal uses as they are now, including fishing, hunting and livestock grazing.
Browns Canyon also is a great example of how public lands are one of our state’s great economic engines. In fact, more than 100,000 people each year visit Browns Canyon for its unique mix of exciting whitewater and wilderness backcountry.
Browns Canyon, and special places like it, attract visitors from far and wide, fuel local economies and support Main Street businesses in places like Salida, Buena Vista, Durango and dozens of other communities across Colorado.
Wilderness’s importance to Colorado’s special way of life is why I am working to protect more than 61,000 acres of critical public lands in San Miguel, Ouray and San Juan counties through my San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act. It’s why I will continue to listen to community leaders to craft my Central Mountains Outdoor Heritage Act to preserve nearly a quarter-million acres of wildlands important for recreation, hunting, fishing and water supplies in Summit, Eagle and Pitkin counties.
It’s why I led the effort in Congress more than a decade ago to create the James Peak Wilderness, which encompasses more than 17,000 acres along the Continental Divide within the Arapaho and Roosevelt national forests.
Wilderness is worth it and it’s an idea I will, with Coloradans by my side, continue to champion in Congress.
Mark Udall, Colorado’s senior U.S. senator, serves on the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.