As Coloradans know, exploring the great outdoors is an essential cornerstone of our quality of life and with many of us confined to our homes during this spring’s shelter-in-place order we’re seeing people craving the freedom and tranquility of nature more than ever.

Right now this means enjoying the trails, rivers and streams that are near our homes, but soon we will be able to venture further out for those long awaited adventures. 

As we plan for that next adventure, a new study shows the immense value of Colorado’s rivers and waterways. The study from Business for Water Stewardship shows that 6.7 million people participated in water-related outdoor recreation in Colorado last year, whether in the form of hiking, jogging, camping, fishing or other water-related activities.

David Dragoo and Lise Aangeenbrug

And that water-related outdoor recreation produced $18.8 billion in economic output and contributed $10.3 billion to the state gross domestic product (GDP) overall. Water-related recreation also supports over 131,000 jobs around the state that provide $6.3 billion in household income and generates an estimated $2.7 billion in tax revenue.

As leaders in the outdoor recreation industry, we also know that investing in clean and plentiful waterways isn’t just good for the environment, it’s good for business. Which is why we believe it’s part of our job to help ensure our communities can access and enjoy our rivers and waterways.

These issues are also particularly acute now: in the face of an emerging megadrought across the West — exacerbated by climate change — scientists are telling us that our waterways are under increasing threat. The drought throughout the West is forecast to become even worse in the years ahead as temperatures rise and water supplies face greater strain.

Therefore, it’s time for us to come together and make the investments we need to ensure that the rivers that have given us so much can continue to provide for the generations to come.

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Supporting implementation of Colorado’s Water Plan is one step we can take to support our rivers and waterways. The plan lays out ways our state can plan and prepare for a hotter and drier future, protecting the rivers and waterways that are so important to the state.  

Additionally, we support the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) which provides permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund — a critical recreation and conservation program that ensures all Americans have access to our public lands and waters.

In a landmark vote the U.S. Senate passed the act June 17 in a 73-25 vote, sending the bill to the House. The president has indicated that he supports the bill. 

With the Summer Outdoor Retailer show scheduled to be held in downtown Denver last month, but canceled due to COVID-19, we have had to pivot to an online format. The outdoor industry will still gather online from July 21-23 for three days of live programming, education and brands showcasing their products.

Despite not being able to gather in person this year, the outdoor industry is as important as ever to our state’s economic security and wellbeing. As our state reopens, the outdoor recreation sector will be there ready to outfit, guide and promote our public lands and waters. 

This study just confirms the importance of this industry to the economy and to the overall health of our state as we work to rebuild after this pandemic. And while we continue to recreate responsibly close to home and plan our next adventure, we can use the current moment to reflect on what we can do to safeguard the health of our rivers — and our outdoor industry. 

David Dragoo is the founder of Mayfly Outdoors, a Colorado-based outdoor products company founded in Colorado Springs. Lise Aangeenbrug is the Executive Director of the Outdoor Industry Association.

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