Opinion: Protect our public lands | SteamboatToday.com

Opinion: Protect our public lands

Tuesday was an exciting day in Steamboat for public lands.

We celebrated the 50th anniversary of Wild and Scenic Rivers, a system in which the free-flowing Yampa has been recommended for inclusion. We celebrated the 50th anniversary of the National Trails System, which includes the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, running just outside of town through the iconic Mt. Zirkel Wilderness. And we celebrated our new designation as a Gateway Community to the Continental Divide Trail — a status that shows the rest of the world what we've known for years that we're a friendly town for people traveling the CDT.

It was also the day that the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted in favor of permanent reauthorization and full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a program that Sen. Cory Gardner said is "the crown jewel of our conservation programs." This was an important step, but there is still a long way to go for LWCF.

This vital conservation and recreation program, which has saved places in every state and nearly every county in the U.S., expired on Sept. 30 because of Congressional neglect. Our public lands have already lost out on over $10 million in funding because of their inaction.

Now, with the future of America's outdoor heritage at stake, Coloradans are urgently calling on Sen. Gardner, Rep. Tipton and their colleagues to take immediate action to reauthorize LWCF with full and dedicated funding, so that all Americans can explore our iconic landscapes and waterways for generations to come.

Outdoor recreation is big business in Colorado. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, hunting, hiking, camping and other outdoor recreation activities contribute a staggering $28 billion annually to our state economy and generate $2 billion in state and local tax revenue that funds our public schools and the vital social programs that our communities depend on.

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Beginning this week, our most treasured outdoor spaces will go unprotected — and our local and national economies will be deeply imperiled — if Congress fails to act.

Failure to immediately renew and fully fund LWCF will not only make our economy suffer but will deprive our children of the same opportunities we had to explore the wild places we love. Over its 53-year history, LWCF has given Coloradans the opportunity to spend quality time and make memories hunting, fishing, camping and doing a host of other outdoor activities.

Here in Steamboat, many have grown up recreating on the 1101 Trail, our section of the CDT. Just south of Rabbit Ears Pass, the last major unprotected stretch of the CDT in Colorado follows the Highways 14 and 40 for 14 miles due to a lack of public land access.

Without LWCF, the CDT may never be completed, leaving the trail indefinitely on this dangerous stretch of road. We have a moral obligation to ensure that future generations have the opportunity to hike or ride the CDT in a safe and scenic location, not on the side of the highway.

Every day that LWCF remains unauthorized poses a greater threat to our children and grandchildren's opportunities and the American way of life we enjoyed.

Right now, Colorado is counting on Sen. Gardner and Rep. Tipton to urge their colleagues in the majority party to make good on their commitment to LWCF and protect our access to the outdoor places we love. Failure to do so will have terrible consequences for the places we love, for the hardworking Coloradans that support the outdoor recreation industry and for families to get outside, stay healthy and make memories while exploring America.

Our land and wild places don't have any more time to spare; as Congress has now let America's most important parks program expire, it is high time for them to set aside politics and stand up for communities across Colorado and the country who agree that LWCF is essential to protecting our local economies and access to the great outdoors that our children deserve.

Sincerely,

Peter and Patty Duke

Owners of Point6

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