A last-minute change to an indoor venue due to stormy weather couldn't keep folks away from a dedication ceremony Saturday for Colorado's newest National Monument. Supporters gathered in bleachers at the Buena Vista High School gym to hear from local, state, and federal officials as they celebrated the designation.
The nearly 22,000-acres of public land that stretches from Buena Vista to Salida in Chaffee County along the Arkansas River is well known for its recreation and wildlife.
"The white-water is great, the fishing is pretty top-notch, it's a pretty spectacular and unique place," says Richard Peterson-Cremer. Peterson-Cremer came in from Denver to support friends who'd been helping in the campaign to earn the National Monument designation.
Comments during the nearly 90-minute ceremony centered on thanking those involved for cooperation and dedication during the decade-plus long process, everyone from local residents to government officials, past and present.
It's a sentiment that strikes a chord with Tom Tidwell, Chief of the U.S. Forest Service.
"The significance of this is an example of what can be done when communities come together and deal with differences, address each other's concerns, but do it in a way where they really value those differences," says Tidwell.
Prepared remarks also celebrated the prestige the designation will bring to the region.
"We get to live here with it," said Keith Baker, Executive Director of Friends of Browns Canyon, a group that has long-worked to preserve the area. "We get to nurture it and take care of it and be stewards of it on behalf of all the American people, and all the people in the world in fact, because people come worldwide to climb our 14ers and now they'll come to see Browns Canyon National Monument."
It's an aspect that resonates with Governor John Hickenlooper.
"It's a great form of rural economic development, to get more tourists to come into the state," says Hickenlooper. "They come into Denver or Colorado Springs or Fort Collins, they'll spend a couple of days there, and then they'll go off and come to these amazing places. And having Browns Canyon be a National Monument, I think will significantly increase tourism, the number of people coming through Colorado Springs."
National Monuments can be created by an act of Congress, but legislation there stalled. President Barack Obama used the Antiquities Act to designate the land as a National Monument earlier this year.
It's a move criticized by some, including Republican Representative Doug Lamborn, whose district includes Chaffee County. Lamborn issued a statement Friday, calling the designation an abuse of executive power and a land grab.
But U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell dismisses those concerns, and in her prepared remarks during the dedication ceremony, she called the country's public lands a gift.
"And as we grow and we urbanize and we diversify as a nation, and we get more and more disconnected from the outdoors and nature, it is more important today to protect these special places than ever before," said Jewell.
Management of the area will remain with the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Historic uses, including cattle grazing, hunting, and fishing will continue, and a management plan to come will include input from the local and state levels, as well as tribal concerns.
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