Hikers, mountain bikers and Colorado lawmakers said they are pleased with a request by Sen. Michael Bennet for a Senate hearing on the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act.
The CORE Act, introduced by Bennet on Jan. 28, protects about 400,000 acres of Colorado public lands, including new wilderness areas, along with new recreation areas that preserve outdoor uses, such as hiking and mountain biking. The companion bill in the House introduced by Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., received a hearing in April and was approved by the House Committee on Natural Resources in June.
“The CORE Act enjoys the full support of seven affected counties, many cities and towns, local leaders, and a wide range of stakeholders – from mountain bikers to ranchers, and hikers to hunters,” Bennet wrote in his hearing request. “For these reasons, Coloradans are eager for the Senate to consider this bill.”
Since its introduction, the CORE Act has received statements of support from lawmakers and stakeholders alike, such as Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, and the counties of Summit, San Miguel and others.
“Today’s CORE Act integrates the legislation into a robust public lands package that will protect the Colorado economy and preserve the Colorado environment for generations to come,” Polis said in a statement.
Ana Siegel, a resident of Durango, commended the CORE Act as an “incredible opportunity” to set aside protections for outdoor usage in Colorado.
“My mind has been completely blown at how much public land there is, and how many accessible trails there are for biking, hiking, kayaking. ... It’s this insane hub for outdoor activity,” Siegel said.
The counterargument for the CORE Act is that there are limitations on outdoor usage, Siegel said, but coming from a place with limited trails for recreation, “it seems selfish that we wouldn’t want to put further wilderness areas aside to protect just because we want more opportunities to recreate.”
Pete McKay, San Juan County commissioner, said people in the San Juan Mountains have been working on wilderness and special management bills for more than 12 years, and he sees them as “vital to our economy.”
“We are a recreation-based economy, and the idea of giving permanent protections to these special areas is valuable to protect the land and wildlife itself,” McKay said. “It also gives us the economic certainty that these lands will continue to function as a draw to visitors from Colorado, the U.S. and around the world.”
McKay said that San Juan County has been working closely with the counties of Ouray and San Miguel over the past few years to achieve and maintain protection of public lands, and each county has received feedback from their businesses, recreation groups and citizens on the topic.
Some pushback in terms of recreation legislation over the past few years might have had to do with mining interests and certain recreation groups, McKay said, but commissioners and residents were willing to compromise and redraw boundaries until the specifications were generally accepted by everybody.
McKay also expressed concern with the current administration not reflecting the needs of people on the ground in terms of land and outdoor usage.
“Our public lands are so valuable to all of us, and I don’t want to see them being sold off or opened up for certain extraction when what we’ve worked on for all these years has really helped these public lands,” McKay said. “Something like the CORE Act would really help protect even more acreage in Colorado.”
Ultimately, with the extensive outdoor opportunities that Colorado offers, Siegel said, protecting its lands is generally favorable to Coloradans.
“As someone who loves to recreate outside, it’s also my duty to do what I can to protect them,” Siegel said. “The responsible thing in my mind is to support bills that will continue the conservation of Colorado’s public lands and get more protection for our lands.”
Ayelet Sheffey is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald.