I recently had the opportunity to attend a forum on Colorado’s outdoor recreation industry, hosted by Colorado State District 22 Senator Andy Kerr. Joining him were Colorado Tourism Office Director Cathy Ritter, Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office Director Luis Benitez, Public Lands Business Organizer for Conservation Colorado Gabe Kiritz, and State District 5 Senator Kerry Donovan.
The forum emphasized the importance of public lands and how they contribute to our state’s tourism and recreation economy, but I was especially intrigued with Senator Donovan’s discussion of the inaugural Colorado Public Lands Day on May 20, 2017.
Colorado became the first state in the nation to establish a holiday recognizing the value of public lands last year. The third Saturday in May will be known as Colorado Public Lands Day. The bill, carried by Senator Donovan, passed with bipartisan support and was signed into law by Governor Hickenlooper in May 2016.
During the recent forum, Senator Donovan talked about how crucial public lands are to Colorado, as a defining part of our heritage, identity and unique way of life. This new state holiday is intended to encourage all of us Coloradoans to get outside and enjoy.
Our public lands are vital resources providing clean water and protection of wildlife habitat that also offer vast recreation opportunities that can often be accessed for free. According to www.copubliclandsday.com, Colorado has 24 million acres of public land, which 90 percent of the people living here use on a regular basis. We have eight national monuments, 12 national park sites, and 41 state parks.
Some of the recreation opportunities I’ve personally enjoyed on our public lands during my lifetime in Colorado include backpacking and camping, hiking, mountain biking, wildlife viewing, exploring historic sites, fishing and hunting. (Yes, I went dove hunting in the San Luis Valley while I was in high school and I swear they were laughing at me … the doves, that is.)
But our public lands are under attack, as funds for maintaining them are on White House budget chopping blocks, and as neighboring states such as Utah try to take back public lands for private development. The transfer of public lands to the private sector means that access would not only be limited but, in some cases, eliminated altogether.
Senator Donovan stressed that public lands belong to all of us, and that she has seen some “unlikely alliances” coalesce to fight their loss. We all pretty much know that bikers and hikers and horse riders don’t agree on much while on the trails, and that motorized recreation on some public lands such as in wilderness areas is quite controversial. But, according to Senator Donovan, these groups are coming together to send a message that our public lands should stay just that – public.
As we do so often, Colorado is leading the way in the celebration and preservation of public lands with more than 95 events across the state that include concerts, trail building, education, and brew fests. Check out all the opportunities on the website, and let’s all take note of this first-in-the-nation historic day on May 20, not only by enjoying even a small part of the 24 million acres, but also by speaking out and taking a stand for Colorado’s public lands.