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Coloradans speak out on protecting Browns Canyon; another meeting planned on legislation

Bill Dvorak of the National Wildlife Federation talks to Colorado Sen. Mark Udall during a meeting on Browns Canyon. Photo by John GaleBill Dvorak of the National Wildlife Federation talks to Colorado Sen. Mark Udall during a meeting on Browns Canyon. Photo by John GaleMore than 200 people attended a recent public meeting in Nathrop convened by Sen. Mark Udall on his proposal to designate popular Browns Canyon in south-central Colorado as a national monument, which will include new wilderness. The bill would permanently protect about 22,000 acres of the world-class hunting, fishing and recreation area in Chaffee County.

Rep. Doug Lamborn’s presence at the meeting was one reason many people attended. To my knowledge it was the first time Lamborn, whose district includes Browns Canyon, has ever participated in a public meeting of this size in Chaffee county.

At the meeting, Rep. Lamborn appeared open to the proposal, stating that as long as the designation reflected his “multiple-use” approach to public lands use, he was willing to entertain the idea of the legislative protection.

Of course, Browns Canyon itself was the big draw. This stretch of the Arkansas River is one of, if not the most popular, white water trips in the country. It’s also a favorite of fishermen, hunters, hikers, horseback riders, and artists looking for inspiration. The local Friends of Browns Canyon group distributed 200 fluorescent green stickers to people who want to show their support for Udall’s proposal.

There were also 30-40 others in attendance who were not in favor of the proposal. Many of these were local ranchers concerned about grazing rights and additional government regulations. Sen. Udall’s staff member, Jill Ozarski, met later with the group to find out more and see if there are ways to mitigate those concerns.

Some people think more of the canyon should be designated as wilderness and the only road in the area should be closed while local off-road-vehicle proponents want roads closed for more than 25 years to be reopened for OHV use. The current proposal keeps that existing road open and expands the wilderness designation to the eastern edge of the road, expanding the existing  wilderness study area from 9,000 acres to 10,500 acres.

The entire monument designation of 22,000 acres is down from an original proposal of well over 100,000 acres. Everyone who wanted to speak was given one minute to state their position. Many concerns were addressed on the spot by the senator, his staff or a group of panelists representing the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land management, Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife, local trails groups, river outfitters and the county visitors’ bureau. It was a tremendous example of democracy in action and Sen. Udall should be saluted for shaping his legislation with this “from the bottom up” approach.

I have been running trips in Brown’s Canyon since 1981 and permanently moved to the Arkansas Valley in 1984. It is without doubt one of my favorite river runs and the stretch of river I have run the most. It is truly deserving of National Monument designation and worth preserving for future generations to enjoy.

There will be another public meeting May 18, 9:30-11:30 a.m. in a Front Range venue to be announced in the next few days. As soon as that information is available we will distribute it. I urge all who have a stake or interests in this issue to attend or send in comments to Senator Udall’s website: http://www.markudall.senate.gov/files/documents/brownscanyonfactsheet.pdf

You can also go to the Friends of Browns Canyon website for additional information: www.brownscanyon.org

About the Author
Bill Dvorak

Bill Dvorak is a public lands organizer in Colorado for the Rocky Mountains and Prairies Regional Center of the National Wildlife Federation. He lives in Nathrop, Colo., and is a longtime fishing and rafting guide.

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