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07/17/2013

Explore, Enjoy and Protect

During the week of the Fourth of July, Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) and his family hosted a rafting trip down the Green River through Dinosaur National Monument. They were joined by a diverse group of stakeholders, which included sportsmen, conservationists, Department of the Interior officials, water experts and members of the oil and gas industry. Also tagging along for the trip was the Denver Post’s Scott Willoughby, who wrote two pieces for the trip – “Dinosaur National Monument's Canyon of Lodore inspires awe” and “Expedition on Green River in Dinosaur Natl. Monument builds teamwork” – both spotlighting the extraordinary power of experiencing a place first-hand.

The Sierra Club holds a historical connection to the area and we are glad to see it highlighted through outdoor recreation opportunities. Senator Bennet has shown a dedication to making sure these opportunities and our landscapes do not fade away, most recently leading efforts to designate Chimney Rock as a national monument in southwestern Colorado. Not only is Chimney Rock a beautiful site capable of providing an economic boost for the surrounding communities; it is also a deeply spiritual and culturally significant site to the Puebloan people as well as other tribes.

Located in the northwest corner of the state, Dinosaur National Monument has historically been a point of contention. Scott Willoughby mentions the battle during the mid-1950s between the Sierra Club and the Bureau of Reclamation over a pair of proposed hydroelectric dams on the Green River, which runs through Dinosaur National Monument and today is a rafting hotspot along with the neighboring Yampa River. Outdoor recreation has become increasingly more important in the state of Colorado, providing a significant economic boost to communities near protected areas. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation in Colorado generates $13.2 billion in spending, 124,600 direct Colorado jobs, $4.2 billion in wages and salaries and $994 million in state and local tax revenue. In a report commissioned by the Colorado River Outfitters Association, rafting generated $127 million in the state of Colorado. This makes Senator Bennet’s trip all the more important and highlights the need for champions to raise awareness of the threats that some of our most iconic landscapes currently face.

Nowhere is the whitewater rafting industry more vital to the surrounding region than at Browns Canyon, located 2.5 hours south of Denver. Here, the Arkansas River cuts through rugged gulches of granite, making it the most popular destination for whitewater rafting in the country. It brings in more than $23 million a year to the Upper Arkansas Valley economy. In addition to rafting, it is one of the few areas of public land in Colorado located at mid-elevation, making it a critical winter range for deer, bighorn sheep and elk. Yet despite local support from citizens, business owners and lawmakers, Browns Canyon lacks permanent protection.

Since our work to save Dinosaur National Monument the Sierra Club has continued to recognize the value of wild places. Our work with local communities to permanently protect other places at risk, including Browns Canyon, goes on.

--by Malcom Mossman 

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