|Senator Udall outlines his bill.|
As snow swirled outside the venue, the reception area at Noah's Ark Whitewater Rafting, no doubt some of those present were mentally calculating what percentage of a decent snowpack had accrued thus far in the season.
This proposal has been a long time coming. I remember seeing Browns Canyon from a raft for the first time in 1986 or '87 — and that trip was a junket organized for some conservation group (Trout Unlimited?) connected either with Browns Canyon or the proposed Arkansas River state park. And I can recommend testifying at a public meeting in Buena Vista six (?) years ago before Ken Salazar when he was in the Senate. And there has been a lot more done along the way.
Part of the proposed national monument — to be administered by the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service, not the Park Service — has been a BLM wilderness study area (WSA) since the 1980s, at least.
Like a lot of the BLM WSA's, it is a not a high-altitude alpine forest-and-snow area, but would protect lower elevation forest (important big game habitat) and riparian areas. It had a road into it to an old mining camp. And lots of people wanted a say for or against the proposal: recreational gold miners, hunters, dirt bikers, four-wheelers, cattlemen, commercial rafters, private rafters, anglers . . . and one group that surprised me, but whose inclusion makes perfect sense.
Over the years, compromises were made, and the original proposal shrank down to about 10,000 acres.
Udall praised the effort as "emblematic" of how a public lands bill should be crafted, from the bottom up and as a "common sense proposal" that would "protect all existing legal uses."
Then came brief statements from supporters. There was the motel owner-real estate agent from Buena Vista, who said that a designated national monument would bring more visitors. I suspect that he is right. The vice president of the commercial rafters association made a similar point, noting that whitewater rafting on the Arkansas is a $54 million industry.
Another outfitter, Bill Dvorack (holder of Colorado outfitting license #1) spoke about protecting wildlife habitat. Bill Sustrich of Salida, at 87 years probably the oldest life member of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, talked about ATVers ruining elk hunting.
Interestingly, there was another speaker from a nonprofit group helping veterans reintegrate into society. He identified himself as a former Army sniper in Iraq, and talked about the part that public lands recreation played in his own de-stressing from his war experience.
That rang a bell — I remembered outdoor writer and vet Galen Geer writing an article about how hunting did something similar for him after his tours in Vietnam. His article seemed to stand alone at the time (the late 1980s or early 1990s), but now people are organizing such outdoor experiences.
* About a century ago, the US Board of Geographic Names or some such agency decided that the possessive apostrophe was too complicated for them.