The best way to celebrate National Wilderness Month

Guest post by Josh Lautenberg

September is National Wilderness Month, a chance to celebrate and revel in our nation’s wild places. But when you live in Colorado, it’s hard to dedicate just one month to our great outdoors. This Centennial State is blessed with an abundance of natural treasures like towering mountains, wildflower-filled meadows, and abundant wildlife.

As the President’s National Wilderness Month proclamation reads, “Our untrammeled lands and waters are part of a rich legacy that is carried forward from one generation to the next, reflecting a spirit of conservation deeply rooted in the quintessential American belief that each of us has an equal share in these special places and an equal responsibility to protect them.”

But unless these public lands are permanently safeguarded as wilderness, there is no guarantee that they will be around for those who come after us. And one place that more than deserves that protection is Colorado’s Continental Divide. This area, in Summit and Eagle counties, boasts 58,500 acres of incredible lands that serve as an outdoor recreation haven, critical wildlife habitat, and a source of clean air and water. Legislation recently introduced by Congressman Jared Polis would preserve this amazing place for future generations as wilderness and special management areas.

Passage of the Continental Divide Wilderness and Recreation Act would ensure that we can continue enjoying these natural treasures and our way of life years into the future. For me, that is skiing on our mountain majesties, biking on our incredible trails, and it is enjoying all that these lands offer during the summer months – hiking, paddling, camping, hunting and fishing, escaping to a place of solitude, or mountain biking.

For nearly a decade, a coalition of sportsmen and outdoor recreationists, small business owners and veterans, and elected officials and conservationists have been working to safeguard the Central Rocky Mountains in Colorado’s Continental Divide. I join the many individual and groups who appreciate the leadership of Rep. Polis, and the support of Senator Michael Bennet in protecting this special place.

The Central Rocky Mountains provide the scenic backdrop that draws people to live here. Today, more and more people are moving to Colorado because they want to be near protected public lands. They want clean air and water, wild places, and beautiful scenery. In fact, a recent study from Headwaters Economics found that western states’ employment grew by 152 percent near protected areas. Additionally, jobs in counties near conserved public lands increased 345 percent over the last Four decades.

Rep. Polis’ legislation would safeguard over 40,000 acres as wilderness and more than 16,000 acres as recreation management areas. The bill would expand the Holy Cross, Eagles Nest and Ptarmigan Ridge wilderness areas, and would create the new wilderness — Williams Fork, Tenmile, and Hoosier Ridge. It would also add Porcupine Gulch, as a Special Management Area, protecting land in an important wildlife corridor and near the land bridge over I-70 at Eisenhower Tunnel.

Creation of the Tenmile Recreation Management Area, already enjoyed by mountain bikers and skiers, would sustain recreation opportunities. Outdoor recreation is a booming industry in Colorado, generating $13.2 billion annually in consumer spending and responsible for 125,000 jobs that pay $4.2 billion in salaries and wages.

President Obama closed his proclamation by saying, “During National Wilderness Month, let us recommit to preserving the places that remind us of who we are and of all that our Nation is. Let us renew our resolve to protect America’s incomparable natural splendor in our time so it can endure as a birthright of every citizen and shape the lives and dreams of generations to come.”

I cannot think of a place more befitting that statement than Colorado’s Continental Divide.