Schwartz: We must remember the value of our national parks and public lands

Former Colorado state Sen. Gail Schwartz

Former Colorado state Sen. Gail Schwartz

On this 100th anniversary of the creation of the National Park Service, we have a great opportunity to honor and reflect on the immense value of our national parks — and public lands in general. It’s easy to take them for granted, since so many of our finest lands have been accessible for most or all of our lives. These lands also provide great value for both our economy and our ecosystems when we’re not out enjoying them. There’s no doubt that our public lands are worth standing up for. But establishing public lands and sustainable land management in the West did not come without struggle and hard work, and we must remember this if we want to maintain our heritage for the next 100 years and beyond.

When people think of Colorado, they think of our mountains and iconic beauty. We’ve kept our state extraordinary by protecting and preserving access to public lands for over a century. We’ve also built one of the strongest economies in the West, partially because of our balanced use of public lands for agricultural grazing, recreation, hunting and fishing and habitat preservation, along with appropriately located mineral and oil and gas production.

As they did for many Coloradans, our national parks and public lands played an influential role in my life and career. I remember a moment at the summit of Long’s Peak as a 12 year-old camper when I realized Colorado was where I wanted to live, work and raise a family. I moved to Colorado for college, met my husband, and we raised our kids in the Roaring Fork Valley. I launched my career as a partner in an industry-leading firm designing ski areas, where I had a front-row view to the growing outdoor recreation economy in North America. This commitment continued with my career in public service over several decades. In particular, as a state senator I fought to protect our land and water and keep our special places to benefit generations to come.

Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District includes 54,000 square miles of land open to the public for a variety of important uses. It is perhaps our country’s most beautiful congressional district, and, having lived and worked here for over 40 years, I understand the extraordinary value of our watersheds, open lands and wild places.  The 3rd Congressional District is home to three national parks, six national monuments, a national heritage area, approximately 11 million acres of National Forest land, and nearly 30 national wilderness areas. These lands also serve as our watershed and deliver water to over 40 million people in the Western United States.

Our public lands are fundamental to the success of the outdoor recreation economy in Colorado, which accounts for nearly $35 billion in state economic activity annually, as well as 350,000 jobs. It’s obvious that our businesses and families benefit greatly when outdoor enthusiasts choose Southern and Western Colorado for their next adventure, which is the future of our economy.

On this 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, let’s honor the legacies of those who fought to protect such magnificent lands for all to enjoy.

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