Opinion: As we emerge from COVID-19, investment in public lands is vital to mountain town recovery

Patrick Randall
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Grand Lake is a community in many ways defined by our access to the outdoors. We’re a popular snowmobiling destination in Colorado, a gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park and the Continental Divide Trail, and our town is named after Colorado’s largest natural lake.

The ability for visitors to spend time outside enjoying the public lands surrounding Grand Lake — from life-changing expeditions to the rejuvenation and relaxation of a short hike or simply sitting out in nature — is incredibly important for our community’s health. From an economic perspective, my family’s business and many others in town depend on the ease of access to these experiences in nature. That’s why investing in our public lands will be critical to our recovery from COVID-19. 

The Great American Outdoors Act, which Senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner helped to introduce just before COVID-19 was declared a national emergency, would do two main things to help us emerge from the severe financial hit caused by the novel coronavirus.

First, it would provide funding to address the long neglected maintenance backlog of more than $12 billion in national parks and other public lands — repairs for roads, visitors centers and trailheads that we’ve put off fixing for so long. Rocky Mountain National Park alone has a backlog of $84 million worth of projects. Completing this work would improve access and overcrowding, making our community even more attractive to visit and would put people to work at a critical time. 

The second thing that the GAOA would do is guarantee full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million annually. LWCF has been working to protect outdoor spaces for more than 50 years, and in that time, grants from the fund have benefited famed destinations like Rocky Mountain National Park and local treasures like Grand Lake Town Square and the East Inlet Trail.

A recent study by The Trust for Public Land found that each $1 contributed by LWCF to help fund everything from national parks to local ball fields — none of which comes from taxpayer dollars — returns $4 in economic value, most of which stays in the local community. This means a fully funded LWCF creates $3.6 billion each year in economic activity.

Enacting the Great American Outdoors Act into law will be a landmark investment in public lands, an economic engine to restart countless communities across Colorado. Most recently, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that the GAOA will be taken up in the Senate in the next work period, which goes from June 1 through the end of the month. While this is cause for great cheer, passage of the bill is far from over.

I am grateful that our Colorado District 2 U.S. Representative Joe Neguse is a strong advocate for the LWCF and a champion for Colorado’s public lands, grateful to Senators Gardner and Bennet for continuing to work across the aisle to protect Colorado’s irreplaceable natural treasures, and hopeful for the bipartisan support in the Senate necessary to pass this incredibly important bill.

We who run small, rural businesses have tough times ahead, and we need this support badly. I urge all senators to vote in favor of the Great American Outdoors Act when it comes to the floor, followed by a quick approval in the House and a successful trip to President Trump’s desk.

Patrick Randall is co-owner of Never Summer Mountain Products, an outdoor clothing and equipment store in the heart of Grand Lake on the western gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park along the Continental Divide Trail. 

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