‘Man can only mar it’
Although I love all types of outdoor recreation (including ATV and snowmobile trips), I also understand the need to preserve some of the scant roadless areas that Colorado has left. Wilderness areas maintain biological diversity, improve air and water quality, and provide measurable economic benefits. That is why I support the Hidden Gems Wilderness proposal.
While most of us are aware of the myriad reasons to preserve our public lands, many people are surprised to learn that Colorado is not as wild as we often perceive. In fact, the maximum core-to-perimeter distance in Colorado (the farthest one can get from a road) is only 8 miles! In California – a state with five times the population density of Colorado – the maximum core-to-perimeter distance is more than 30 miles. In Idaho, it is 65 miles. With so many OHV (off-highway vehicle) users complaining about Wilderness denying their right to build more roads, you would imagine that Colorado had a lot more roadless lands.
Contrary to what many OHV users will have you believe, active outdoor recreation (i.e. non-motorized) attracts economic growth for local communities. Data collected by the Sonoran Institute shows that: 1) there is no evidence that setting aside lands for conservation is detrimental to economic growth, 2) there is plenty of evidence that communities like those in the Roaring Fork Valley benefit substantially from Wilderness and most importantly, 3) the more protected the land, the greater the economic growth.
More local Wilderness means a bigger cut of a larger economic pie coming our way. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, through trips and gear purchases alone, active outdoor recreation participants directly and indirectly contribute $730 billion to the national economy every year. Across the country, active outdoor recreation retail sales amounted to $289 billion in 2006, which, by comparison, was more than the retail sales of the entire auto and light truck industry. Additionally, the $10 billion active outdoor recreation economy in Colorado supports 107,000 jobs in our state, generates half-a-billion dollars in tax revenues, and accounts for 4 percent of our entire state gross product.
If the numbers aren’t enough, consider what President Theodore Roosevelt said: “Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. What you can do is to keep it for your children, your children’s children, and for all who come after you.”
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The blizzards of January and February seem like distant dreams to Colorado water managers. What started as a promising year for water supply — with above-average snowpack as of April 1 — ended Sept. 30 with the entire state in some level of drought.