Colorado priorities included in outdoor recreation bill

Caitlyn Kim/CPR News
Rock climber Sasha DiGiulian of Boulder joins lawmakers and other advocates at the US Capitol on in support of the Explore Act, Nov. 29, 2023.

Sasha DiGiulian, a rock climber from Boulder, has been to the U.S. Capitol before to talk with lawmakers. But Thursday, she’ll occupy another seat — as a witness in support of a bipartisan bill aimed at increasing recreational access on public lands, the EXPLORE Act.

“I’m excited to be a part of such a monumental bill,” she said. “I think that it is a testament to how big and growing the outdoor industry is in general.”

The legislation has been introduced by House Natural Resources Committee chair Rep. Bruce Westerman of Arkansas and Ranking Member Raul Grijalva of Arizona. Colorado Reps. Joe Neguse and Doug Lamborn are among the committee members who have signed on as co-sponsors.

“The EXPLORE Act is a culmination of hard work across our committee and the product of more than 15 bills championed by members on both sides of our dais,” Westerman said at a press conference outside the Capitol Wednesday. “While we might disagree on many things, we're united in the fact that expanding access to outdoor lands and improving the experience for outdoor recreation on federal lands and waters is something worth fighting for.”

The bill includes a range of policies, from increasing recreation opportunities for service members and veterans to restoring campgrounds to using technology to improve visitor access and experiences.

It also includes proposals originally introduced by Neguse, many with GOP Rep. John Curtis of Utah, among them a bill to expand long-distance bike trails (the BOLT Act) and another to ensure rock climbers can use fixed anchors on public lands (PARC Act). Other Neguse bills in the package would continue to allow the US Forest Service to lease administrative sites to address housing needs in rural and mountain communities, streamline permitting for recreational outfitters and guides (the SOAR Act), and improve outdoor recreation coordination.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Colorado U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse was among those who joined Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland at Camp Amache National Historic Site on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022.

Members on both sides of the aisle, as well as the bill’s supporters outside of Congress, are optimistic about getting it to President Joe Biden’s desk, even with a bitterly divided Congress.

Westerman said there were ideas that others wanted included, but were left out because they would have made the bill less bipartisan. The 15 ideas it does contain “have strong bipartisan and bicameral support. And I know there’s a lot of interest in the Senate to see this passed as well.”

After Thursday’s hearing, Westerman thinks the bill will have a markup and get voted out of committee as early as next week. “And I’ll be advocating to get it on the floor.”

He thinks this bill avoids many of the typical roadblocks. The outdoor recreation economy affects most members, supports five million jobs a year, and generates $1.1 trillion in annual gross economic output. The ideas in the bill have been debated and discussed for years, and won’t add to the deficit.

“We feel very good about the economic impacts it’s going to have down the road,” Westerman said.

“It's really special to be a part of something that's bipartisan,” said DiGiulian. “I think that there's a lot of divide right now in our country and seeing something that's unanimously supported across the aisles is really special.”