Colorado finalizes five-year statewide outdoor recreation, conservation plan
Colorado’s unique relationship between outdoor recreation and natural resource conservation have been fused into a new guiding approach for the state, as Colorado’s latest Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan was finalized this past week.
The recreation plan sets out a five-year vision of how to develop outdoor recreation while also sustaining and preserving the natural and cultural heritage that makes Colorado special. The state’s hand-in-hand approach between recreation and conservation is the first in the country to intertwine them as equal priorities for the state’s residents and economy.
According to the document, in 2017 Colorado’s outdoor recreation industry produced $62 billion in economic output, as well as $35 billion toward the state’s gross domestic product — which is 10 percent of the entire state GDP. The industry produced $9.4 billion in local, state and federal tax revenue and provided 511,000 jobs, comprising nearly 20 percent of the state’s labor force with a majority outside the Denver metro area.
The comprehensive plan is required by the federal government for eligibility for grants from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has yet to be renewed since it expired in September. The plan also informs investments from other federal, state and local programs into conservation and recreation projects across the state.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife collaborated with the Colorado Outdoor Partnership and the plan’s advisory group to focus on four areas as the state’s population continues to grow and put increasing strain on resources over the next five years.
The first priority area under the plan is to improve Coloradans’ access to outdoor recreation. In a letter introducing the plan, Gov. John Hickenlooper said that he set out to make access a priority when he launched the “Colorado the Beautiful” initiative, which aims to have every Coloradan living within 10 minutes of a designated park, trail or green space.
“Outdoor recreation opportunities contribute to increased quality of life, economic prosperity and the health of Colorado communities and residents,” Hickenlooper said. “The returns we enjoy from our investment in the outdoors is extraordinary. … and while there are clear economic and social benefits to encouraging more people to pursue outdoor recreation in Colorado, the need to balance growth of outdoor recreation with preservation and enhancement of water, land and wildlife is as important as ever.”
Access to outdoor opportunities would be improved by breaking down barriers, such as income and demographics, as well as utilizing technology more effectively to provide information and tools that encourage and motivate users to get out and play. The plan also intends to encourage private landowners to provide more public access.
The second priority under the plan is to encourage resident and visitor stewardship of Colorado’s natural resources, putting the onus on regular people to both take responsibility along with ownership of the great outdoors. Volunteers and stewardship organizations will be expanded through marketing campaigns and education efforts. An “outdoor stewardship ethic” seeks to get the public to feel invested in the natural beauty around them and translate that into conservation action.
The third priority for the state is land, water and wildlife conservation. With the state growing at a clip of over 100,000 residents a year, the health and maintenance of natural resources becomes paramount. Under this priority area the state will focus on building recreational opportunities while also mitigating environmental effects by protecting areas vulnerable to use impact.
Finally, the state will continue to push for conservation and recreation funding, raising public awareness and increasing political pressure to fund the state’s fastest growing industry. Renewal of the Land and Water Conservation Fund seems to be high on this list. Under this prong, the state would also seek to find innovative new ways to fund conservation and recreation, both to diversify funding sources and to lower dependency on programs at the mercy of congressional gridlock.
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