U.S. Senator Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat, got two differing views about Browns Canyon when he met with constituents and hiked in the area during the congressional Easter recess.
The meetings were in Chaffee County in central Colorado. The Arkansas River flows through Browns Canyon, which sits between Salida and Buena Vista. It may well be the most popular whitewater rafting course in America.
Udall was soliciting input on two separate but related proposals. One is to designate the canyon and some surrounding land a national monument, and the other is to designate wilderness on the east side, from the railroad tracks that parallel the river up to the ridge that separates Chaffee and Park counties.
Although most national monuments are created by presidential proclamation under the Antiquities Act of 1906 (which allows the president to set aside federal land), some have been created by Congress, and Udall said he would prefer to go that route.
Congress is unlikely to pass it, though, without the approval of the relevant congressman, and Browns Canyon sits in the district of Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Springs Republican who's yet to display any public interest in protecting Browns Canyon. "But Lamborn had said he's willing to talk about it," Udall said. Speaking in generalities, the local business community, heavily dependent on tourism, supports monument designation. "A national monument is a star on the map, and that attracts people," said John Engelbrecht, executive director of the Salida Chamber of Commerce. River outfitters like the idea of floating through a national monument.
On the other hand, there are those who worry that they'll lose motorized access to the land east of the river, as well as the bizarre complaint at Udall's second meeting that "this is a federal land grab," even though all the land in question is already owned by the federal government. And even with wilderness designation, grazing and hunting would still be allowed.
Udall said he'd prefer to leave management as it is, with the Forest Service and the BLM in charge, rather than the National Park Service, which administers most national monuments. One complication, though, is that river traffic is managed by Colorado State Parks as part of the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area.
It might be simpler to turn it all over to the National Park Service than to figure out who's in charge of what. Then again, I can already hear the local right-thinkers complain about more federal bureaucrats, even if they do turn out to be good for business.
For Ed Quillen's previous coverage of the Brown's Canyon issue, see this post.
Essays in the Range blog are not written by High Country News. The authors are solely responsible for the content.
Ed Quillen writes from Salida, Colo.