Bill passed

Lisa Rutledge navigates Ouray’s new via ferrata. As pandemic restrictions ease, people are flocking to the outdoors, which will see protections from the Great American Outdoors Act, a bi-partisan bill recently passed by the U.S. Senate. (Planet file photo)

 

Summer is in full swing in the mountains. And after a spring with mandated stay-at-home orders, people are seeking open space and wild lands. In Telluride, bike sales are skyrocketing and local trails are packed. 

“Anywhere that’s in driving distance to Telluride, people are just flocking to the mountains from cities,” said Kaylee Walden, a guide at Mountain Trip. “People are really ready to get out.”

June is normally a slower month for Mountain Trip, but this month, their services have been in high demand. Their local offerings have been growing the past five years, and the new Ouray Via Ferrata is an exciting draw, Walden explained. 

Mountain Trip did not escape the pandemic unscathed. Their spring season in the Alaska Range, which includes more than two dozen trips, had to be canceled, as well as an Everest expedition. Still, there is a silver lining. All the Mountain Trip guides are rested and ready to go.

“We have way more energy to put into that right now because our entire last season was canceled,” said Walden. 

Despite the local enthusiasm for the outdoors, some trails are over-saturated. This week, Walden saw 80 cars at Blue Lakes. There was also toilet paper and other trash around the trails.

“People are not being that respectful which is unfortunate. I understand people want to get out, but still,” Walden added. 

A new local trail at Bridal Veil will help distribute some of the foot traffic. Telluride Mountain Club (TMtC) is still raising funding to construct a bridge across the trail that should be finished this fall. 

Nationally, trails and wilderness could soon receive a new source of funding. In a rare act of partisan collaboration, the Senate passed the Great American Outdoors Act on Wednesday June 17 by a vote of 73-25. The bill was co-sponsored by Colorado Republican Cory Gardner and Steve Daines (R-Mont), as well as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Mitch McConnell also endorsed the bill, which includes a stimulus package that could amount to billions of dollars for the outdoor recreation industry.

These funds will go towards improving national parks and creating a permanent finance scheme for the Land and Conservation Fund, which uses revenues from the oil and gas industries to improve parks and wild lands. Specifically, 50 percent of all federal earnings from oil, gas, coal, and renewable energy produced on federal lands and waters will be devoted to this funding. The National Parks Service and other important federal land-management organizations, such as the U.S. Forest Service will receive $9.5 billion over the next five years.

“In Colorado our outdoor recreation economy accounts for $28 billion and nationally it supports over 5 million jobs. The Great American Outdoors Act would create well over 100,000 jobs nationwide on the parks side alone, and according to a recent analysis for every $1 million that is spent on the Land and Water Conservation Fund, between 16 and 30 jobs are supported. Surrounded by public lands, the Great American Outdoors Act will help get our communities back to work while doing what we love in Colorado – protecting our environment, » Gardner said in a statement to the Planet.

In Colorado, 70 percent of surveyed residents support full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, according to a 2020 poll by Conservation in the West — a bipartisan initiative by the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project. Additionally, 74 percent are in favor of protecting 30 percent of the total lands and ocean owned by the United States by the year 2030.

Despite the strong support for environmental legislation and outdoor recreation, Gardner’s voting record has not often reflected this. Previously, Gardner, a Republican senator, has rarely supported environmental legislation in Colorado. A recent report by Conservation Colorado found that Gardner voted against 85 percent of environmental bills during his time in Congress. 

Senator Gardner has yet to voice his support for the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act, which passed the House of Representatives at the end of last October. The CORE Act is the first Colorado-specific wilderness bill in Congress in over a decade. Cosponsored by Democratic Congressman Joe Neguse and Senator Michael Bennet, the bill would 400,000 acres of public land in Colorado, including 61,000 acres in the local San Juan Mountains. The legislation would also ban oil and gas development on the Thompson Divide and designate Camp Hale on the Continental Divide as a National Historic Landscape.

Gardner is up for reelection this year, and will be challenged by the winner of the Democratic primary: either John Hickenlooper or Andrew Romanoff.

In recent years, support for environmental and wilderness legislation has often been split across party lines, so the Great American Outdoors Act is a welcome collaboration. Although the bill has yet to be signed into law by President Donald Trump, in March, the President assured that he would sign it when it landed on his desk. 

“I am calling on Congress to send me a Bill that fully and permanently funds the LWCF and restores our National Parks,” President Trump tweeted on March 3. 

The bill goes to the House of Representatives next.