Public lands have been a big topic in our national news lately, with companies like Patagonia raising their voices in response to policies for places such as Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. You might’ve noticed it closer to home in Colorado, too, as full-page ads by the outdoor industry are running in the Denver Post to urge Colorado’s Congressional delegation to protect America’s public lands and national monuments.
In fact, many of these conversations are taking place right here in Colorado as residents, recreationists, and members of the outdoor industry discuss the economic power of outdoor recreation and ways in which our public lands can remain viable among our nation’s most treasured natural resources.
Five states are considering or have already followed the likes of Colorado, Utah and Washington to create Outdoor Recreation Offices aimed at improving recreation opportunities; the Boulder-based Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) recently reported that outdoor recreation contributes $887 billion in consumer spending and creates 7.6 million jobs across the nation; and the move of the Outdoor Retailer tradeshow from Utah to Denver gained national coverage for the message it sent to legislators and the potential to generate millions of dollars in revenue for Colorado.
Throughout this dialogue, we’ve cheered as our trails, parks and wilderness areas have been recognized as cultural and economic forces for our state and our country. Yet something seems to be missing from many of these conversations. And that is, how to balance public access and recreational use with the level of human and financial resources available to ensure these places remain environmentally viable and beautiful for generations to come.
After all, Colorado has witnessed the results of exponential recreational use firsthand: beer bottles and human waste became synonymous with Conundrum Hot Springs; Maroon Bells was compared to Disneyland for its massive crowds; and visits to Hanging Lake grew 51% in two years, along with reports of litter and graffiti.
Entrance fees, visitor restrictions, and potential taxes on recreational equipment are some of the ways being proposed to stretch limited resources for public land management. Yet while many of us may feel that these solutions are ones that only the industry or government can implement, we all have a role to play in solving the public land puzzle. All of us who enjoy the fresh Rocky Mountain air; the sunset over the mountains; the breeze rustling through the prairie; or the bright golden aspens. All of us who hike, ski, bike, climb, sightsee, hunt, fish, camp, and explore the beautiful state of Colorado. Every one of us who chooses to live, work and play here can be involved in making an immediate impact on how we use, and more importantly, how we care for our public lands.
For more than 30 years, Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado (VOC) has been leading the charge to enlist Coloradans in caring for the outdoors through volunteer projects across the state. We’ve witnessed firsthand the immediate difference a group of committed people can make when they work together to take direct action for their local trails, rivers, wildlife, open spaces and forests.
Our volunteers have contributed nearly $23 million worth of donated volunteer labor to Colorado’s public lands since 1984, proving that passionate residents, tourists and recreationists can be an effective – and immediately available – workforce, capable of tackling even our most pressing stewardship needs.
But with millions of dollars in backlogged maintenance needs and a growing spotlight on the outdoor industry, it is more important than ever to support volunteer stewardship as an essential part of keeping our public lands accessible for all of us who enjoy the outdoors.
This year, we’re uniting around a common vision to strengthen volunteer stewardship across the state and get more people involved in actively caring for the outdoor places they love. With the support of foundations, corporations and individual donors, we’re launching, for example, the online Stepping Up Stewardship toolkit to help others implement or expand their own volunteer programs. We’re continuing to cultivate and strengthen multi-year partnerships with locally-based stewardship nonprofits to maintain some of Colorado’s most-visited places. We’ll be hosting a series of discussions on the future of Colorado’s outdoors with key stakeholders in conservation, business and policy. And, we’re piloting new programs to diversify our volunteer ranks, including inspiring the next generation of outdoor caretakers through our expanding youth programs – all with the goal of bringing more people into the conversation to lend their voice, learn about the issues, and play an active part in the stewardship solution.
The conversation is large, but we can be naturally united in a common desire for healthy, safe and accessible outdoor places. It’s going to take all of us to help determine how to best preserve our public lands for generations to come, and we hope you join us in ensuring that the importance of stewardship is not left out of the conversation and becomes a significant part of the solution.
We invite you to keep up with the conversation by signing up for our e-newsletter The VOC Voice (for individuals and volunteers) or Partnership News (for land managers and those in the stewardship industry), and connecting with us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and/or Instagram.
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