Wilderness is a place we go to sleep under the stars far from the artificial light of cities, a place with no roads, only the peace and freedom of nature.
Individuals, such as pioneer James Pierson Beckwourth, felt that call and inspired countless others to explore and adventure in our vast expanses of public lands and Wilderness.
Beckwourth’s bravery to venture into the Rocky Mountains as an African American mountain man in the 1800s underscores the importance of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act, introduced in January by Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse.
The bill protects wilderness landscapes and recreational areas throughout the state on 400,000 acres of public land, creating 73,000 acres of new wilderness areas and securing existing outdoor recreation uses such as hiking and mountain biking that will boost the economy for future generations.
It would be the largest acreage set aside in Colorado since the Colorado Wilderness Act in 1993.
The CORE Act is actually a unification of four existing bills crafted with local governments and businesses, conservationists and sportsmen over a 10-year period.
In particular, the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection piece, which halts new oil and gas development in the Thompson Divide area, was generated by an unusual mix of locals — both ranching and recreation interests, not usually on the same side — coming together to work for permanent security for their agricultural, recreational, and tourism economies.
It’s this kind of collaboration that lies behind the words of the CORE Act: people and communities uniting to protect their way of life and economic well-being.
Unfortunately a major snag in moving the bill forward is the non-support of Colorado’s own Sen. Cory Gardner and Rep. Scott Tipton. Without them the CORE Act may never be enacted, and that would be a shame because we could lose much without its protections.
For example, the Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness, and Camp Hale Legacy Act would establish permanent protection for nearly 100,000 acres of wilderness, recreation, and conservation areas in the White River National Forest along Colorado’s Continental Divide, and create a National Historic Landscape around Camp Hale where U.S. soldiers were trained in mountain survival during World War II; and the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act designates some of the state’s most iconic peaks as wilderness, including two fourteeners: Mount Sneffels and Wilson Peak.
These and other Colorado public land safeguards in the CORE Act are at the center of keeping Colorado’s lucrative outdoor recreation economy thriving.
Outdoor recreation in Colorado brings in $28 billion in consumer spending and provides over 229,000 jobs, according to the Outdoor Industry Association, with the Thompson Divide area alone contributing $30 million annually to statewide outdoor recreation.
Removing over 200,000 acres at the Divide from future oil and gas leases is an action that helps to keep our recreation economy strong.
What we have in Colorado’s public lands is a blessing: 75 percent of the 14,000-foot peaks in the continental U.S., more than 13 million acres of national forests, stupendous canyons and magnificent rivers running through them.
For many Coloradans, world-class ski mountains, all levels of hiking trails, and gold medal fishing waters are within a few hours’ drive. And while we are enjoying it all, Colorado’s economy grows. The CORE Act is an immensely important piece of legislation to help keep it that way.
The House Natural Resources Committee heard testimony on the CORE Act on April 2, but so far the bill has not gone further. There is notably no support from Sen. Gardner who incongruously says he’ll run in 2020 on his environmental record.
What happens next will be consequential not only for local/rural interests, but for the statewide economy and all Coloradans.
The CORE Act most certainly offers great ecological and economic benefits, but in our opinion we equally need places like those protected in the CORE Act to deliver us from the pace of modern life, to refresh our spirits, to honor our sacred lands and to provide greater opportunities to get people outside.
As a fur trapper and trail blazer, Beckwourth saw the immense value and opportunity in Western landscapes. We ask that Congress recognize that as well by passing the CORE Act.
Patrick Gillespie is co-founder & director of Hidden Woods Media, a full-service video production company in Denver. David Stewart is co-founder & director of photography at Hidden Woods Media.
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