ESTES PARK — Local elected officials and businesses, members of Colorado’s congressional delegation, diverse interests, conservationists, and Coloradans who appreciate the rugged beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park are gathering on Thursday to celebrate the designation of 250,000 acres of the park as wilderness.
“Wilderness in Rocky Mountain National Park isn’t just good for wildlife, it’s good for the economy,” said Karen Ericson, owner of Serendipity Trading Company in Estes Park. “Wilderness is the economic engine that will drive visitors to the park to appreciate its natural beauty that will always remain untouched by development. People come here to experience the Rocky Mountains at their wildest. Now, nothing will threaten that.”
Most of Rocky Mountain National Park was declared wilderness as part of the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009, signed into law by President Barack Obama at the end of March. Many local elected officials and Coloradans who love the park have worked tirelessly to have most of its land declared wilderness.
“The gateway communities to the park have been pushing for the fulfillment of this vision for many years,” said Grand Lake Mayor Judy Burke. “Finally, the renowned backcountry of Rocky Mountain National Park — which is so important to our local identity and economy — will be protected for future generations.”
“Great things always take time,” said Larimer County Commissioner Kathay Rennels. “Senators Salazar and Allard have always kept their vision on the preservation of Rocky Mountain National Park. Their persistence and patience and dedication have blessed everyone with a true treasure for all time.”
Citizens, civic groups, local businesses and conservation organizations will join Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennett, Rep. Betsy Markey, former Sen. Wayne Allard, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, local elected officials and the National Park Service on Thursday to celebrate this victory. The celebration will begin at 2 p.m. at YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park. To RSVP, call Kyle Patterson at Rocky Mountain National Park: 970-586-1363.
The park’s wilderness designation was the result of multi-year, bipartisan efforts led by Colorado conservation groups and diverse allies, working closely with congressional offices, and the National Park Service. The designation of Rocky Mountain National Park and Dominguez Canyon in western Colorado as wilderness under the Omnibus Bill represent the first new wilderness created in Colorado since 2002.
“The Rocky Mountain National Park wilderness is part of Colorado’s proud history of preserving the world-class landscapes that make it such a special state to live and visit – and that provide the foundation of Colorado’s $10 billion outdoor recreation economy,” said Elise Jones, Executive Director of Colorado Environmental Coalition. “We look forward to working with our leaders on both sides of the aisle to safeguard more spectacular Colorado treasures like these.”
The effort has support of recreation interests, in particular the mountain biking community, who worked to influence details of legislation for the park. Specifically, conservationists worked with the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) to facilitate a study of possible riding opportunities along the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Members of the Colorado’s conservation community – including the Colorado Environmental Coalition, Colorado Mountain Club, Environment Colorado, and The Wilderness Society – have been working for years to protect this important landscape.
Additional Background on Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness
The Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness will include the famous 14,255-foot Longs Peak, the remote Mummy Range, Wild Basin and 250,000 acres of other unroaded and undeveloped areas of the park. Wilderness recommendations for the Park were first made by the National Park Service under President Nixon in 1974; the bipartisan effort to push for congressional designation was led by former Congressmen David Skaggs and then Mark Udall for many years in the House, and pushed in the Senate by former Sen. Wayne Allard and former Sen. Ken Salazar. More recently, this effort was championed by Rep. Betsy Markey and Rep. Jared Polis, who reintroduced Rocky legislation in January 2009. Rocky Mountain National Park is the state’s fourth national park to have wilderness designated within its boundaries.
“We would like to thank the members of Colorado’s congressional delegation who voted for this bill and former Senators Ken Salazar and Wayne Allard for their leadership in protecting these Colorado public lands that sustain both our environment and our communities,” added Steve Smith, from The Wilderness Society. “This bill ensures that Rocky Mountain National Park will be preserved for the very reason it was created – to protect the Rockies in their wildest, most pristine state.”