Public lands will be crucial to Colorado’s COVID-19 recovery
Last week, the U.S. Senate took historic action to protect and enhance one of the centerpieces of our state’s culture and economy, public lands.
Sen. Cory Gardner’s Great American Outdoors Act was approved by the Senate 73-25, and it will provide critical support at a time when our communities need it most, enhancing the lands that we will proudly pass on to the next generation of Coloradans.
Our entire state is hurting because of COVID-19 pandemic, but communities like Fort Collins and those surrounding have been devastated as parks and public places were forced to close. Colorado’s majesties bring visitors from all over the world to experience our state, stay in our hotels, and dine at our restaurants.
Whether it’s to scale the heart of the Rockies, hike the foothills and prairies in and around Fort Collins, or to paddle Colorado’s only nationally designated Wild and Scenic River, Northern Colorado’s public lands and the visitors who come to see them are a vital source of funding for everything from hospitals to highways, emergency preparedness and essential services.
Our public lands and National Parks are critical to our economy, and they will be a key piece of our recovery as well.
This is why the Great American Outdoors Act is crucial during this challenging time. It provides full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which has proven to be the crown jewel of conservation programs in Colorado and across the nation.
The LWCF has provided hundreds of millions of dollars to protect Colorado’s great outdoors and increase public access to these lands.
Throughout its history, the LWCF has provided more than $8 million to projects in Rocky Mountain National Park – protecting public access, wildlife, and breathtaking landscapes. In 2016, the LWCF was used to protect Cascade Cottages, one of the last pieces of privately held property inside of Rocky Mountain National Park.
The fund has even been used to protect places like Denver Urban Gardens and a nature education park in the neighborhood of Montbello. Full and permanent funding of $900 million every single year will mean more conservation opportunities, access to our lands, and projects all across our state.
Sportsmen and women, hikers, campers, and recreationists of every variety have benefited from this program. All of this has come at no cost to the taxpayer, as the funds come from revenues from offshore energy production.
The president signed into law $495 million for the LWCF last year – the highest amount in over 15 years – but it’s still far short of the $900 million the program should receive each and every year.
Public lands are a source of pride in Colorado, but inconsistent funding for our federally managed lands have caused more than $500 million worth of maintenance projects that have been deferred in Colorado – trails that need paving, roads that are crumbling, and visitors center in disrepair.
Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most highly-visited national parks in the country, and it’s now facing a maintenance backlog of more than $84 million in delayed projects. In addition to making sure the LWCF receives the funds it should, the Great American Outdoors Act will provide billions to address these funding shortfalls.
Roughly half a million Coloradans are out of work, and these projects are lined up, ready to go. Improvements and projects on our public lands will create jobs, boost our economic opportunity, and protect the best of Colorado for all of us to cherish.
The Great American Outdoors Act is a historic chance for conservation, but also to help Colorado recover from COVID-19. We encourage the U.S. House of Representatives to pass it as quickly as possible so the president can sign it into law and Colorado’s public lands will be preserved for generations to come.
U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Mayor Wade Troxell of Fort Collins
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