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Opinion Columns

Opinion: Let’s put Colorado back on track to fund and protect our state parks

When he was 7-months-old, my son went through a phase where he would cry as long as he was indoors, but smile as soon as we took him outside. As an outdoors-loving dad, I could think of worse phases for my child to endure.

Now almost 5, my son’s desire to spend time outside has grown from neighborhood parks to national parks, but he still loves the adventures of every size that our public lands have to offer.

Garrett Garner-Wells

We’ve hiked in Rocky Mountain National Park, chased waterfalls in the San Juan National Forest and marveled at the historic events that gave us Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.

But perhaps no other pursuit has brought us as much joy as working to complete our State Parks Passport by visiting all 41 units of Colorado’s State Parks system.

Working to complete our parks passport, my son and I have two rules: we have to go together and we have to do something meaningful — no driving up, getting a stamp and leaving.

These two simple rules have connected us to so many new experiences, from feeding the fish at the Golden Gate Canyon visitors center to watching bald eagles at Barr Lake to admiring Lake Agnes at State Forest State Park. All this, and we’re barely halfway to our 41 park goal.

And when it comes to loving Colorado’s state parks, we’re not alone. According to Colorado Parks & Wildlife, Colorado’s state parks system welcomes over 15 million visitors each year, a number that has grown steadily in the past five years. The sad truth is, we’re at risk of loving our parks to death.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

That’s where SB20-003, the State Parks Improvement Appropriation, comes in.

If passed, this bipartisan bill will invest $10 million in our state parks system. It will fund improvements at some of our favorite destinations — places like Eldorado Canyon, Castlewood Canyon and Lathrop State Parks — and provide funding to open a new state park at Fishers Peak near Trinidad.

It will put Colorado back on track to protect the places we love, a tradition that steered more than five million dollars into our state parks each year until FY11-12.

But this bill is about more than a dollar figure. It’s an important statement of our Colorado values and a critical boost for the parks’ surrounding communities. From outfitters to groceries, our trips to Colorado’s state parks almost always lead to us buying something in the nearest town.

You’d be surprised (or maybe not) by how much a growing preschooler can eat. It’s also a great way to meet the kind folks in towns like Gould, Lake George and Walsenburg.

In the years ahead, I hope my son continues to enjoy traveling around the state and visiting new places with Dad. I hope we gaze up at the Milky Way from North Sterling, camp next to the river at Arkansas Headwaters and swim at Ridgway State Parks.

And when we do, I hope to see the new North Sterling Visitor’s Center and the Arkansas Headwaters and Ridgway campgrounds that SB20-003 will support.

To our elected leaders: Please support SB20-003, which will expand and invest in our state parks system while warming the heart of one outdoors-loving 4-year-old.

And to my son: One day, the responsibility to protect treasured landscapes will fall to you and your generation. When that time comes, I hope the time we’ve spent outside teaches you to respect nature, dream big and speak up with confidence for the places you love. 

Garrett Garner-Wells is a dad, an avid fan of state parks, and Communications Director at Conservation Colorado, the state’s largest environmental advocacy organization.