Just days before the release of a 50-state report outlining some of the country's most promising ways to reconnect Americans to the natural world, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today highlighted two projects in the state of Colorado that will be included in the final report -- representing what states believe are among the best investments in the nation to support a healthy, active population, conserve wildlife and working lands, and create travel, tourism and outdoor-recreation jobs across the country.
Establishing the Rocky Mountain Greenway and conserving the Yampa River Basin are among 100 projects nationwide that will be highlighted in next week's report -- two in every state -- as part of President Obama's America's Great Outdoors initiative to establish a 21st century conservation and recreation agenda and reconnect Americans to the outdoors.
The report is a result of 50 meetings with governors and stakeholders held by Salazar and other senior Interior officials to solicit ideas on how to best implement AGO in their states. These projects were identified for their potential to conserve important lands and build recreation opportunities and economic growth for the surrounding communities as part of close engagement with Gov. John Hickenlooper and the state of Colorado, as well as private landowners, local- and tribal-elected officials, community organizations and outdoor-recreation and conservation stakeholders. The full 50-state report will be released in the coming weeks.
"Under the America's Great Outdoors Initiative, we are listening to the people of Colorado and communities across America and working with them on locally-based projects that will conserve the beauty and health of our land and water and open up more opportunities for people to enjoy them," Salazar said. "My staff and I have been asking each governor for the most promising projects to support in their states, and we will do all we can to help move them forward."
The two projects in Colorado highlighted by Salazar in the forthcoming report are:
Rocky Mountain Greenway
As a result of decades of private, local, state, and federal investment, significant areas of open land are now protected and available for public use in and around the Denver metropolitan area. This investment includes the establishment of 40,000 acres of parks and open space, creation of more than 140 miles of trails, and completion of water quality and recreation improvements within the Denver metro greenway system.
There has been significant federal, state, and local investment in the cleanup and restoration of the Rocky Flats and Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuges, as well as private and public investment in the creation of Confluence and Commons parks in the Central Platte Valley in Denver. An investment of $100 million in these environmental and recreational improvements has created an estimated $10 billion of related economic benefits.
To maximize the benefit of these disparate assets, federal, state and local partners want to create links to creeks, river corridors, and local, state, and federal parks and open-space areas. The state and the Interior Department are joining forces to create a "Rocky Mountain Greenway" -- a system of uninterrupted trails linking the three national wildlife refuges in the metro region (Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR, Two Ponds NWR, and Rocky Flats NWR) and other trail systems in the Denver metro region. The National Park Service also will explore creating connections from Rocky Mountain National Park to the Denver metro area.
Yampa River Basin
The Yampa River Basin in northwestern Colorado is one of the most hydrologically and biologically intact watersheds in the West. As the largest naturally flowing river in Colorado, the Yampa hosts high quality recreational experiences for boaters and anglers. It provides roosting and nesting habitat for the sandhill crane, blue heron, and bald eagle. The river is also vital winter habitat for Colorado's second largest elk herd and large deer herds, making the area a world-class hunting destination.
Good stewardship and conservation of these lands and waters -- both public and private -- is critical to ensuring strong local economies built around ranching, wildlife and recreation that contribute greatly to the economic and ecological health of the state of Colorado and the Colorado River basin as a whole. Two recent successes in the area include 61,485 acres of private land on 131 different properties that have been placed under conservation easement and extensive public and private investment in the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program.
The creation of the Yampa River State Park, the reconstruction of important buildings at Dinosaur National Monument, and recreation improvements at Elkhead Reservoir are the first in many steps that will help spur tourism, recreation, jobs and greater public use, all goals of AGO. The stronger and better coordination among governments at all levels and local communities afforded by AGO will help leverage current resources to increase the pace and scale of future accomplishments, including voluntary conservation of working agriculture lands, investment in forest management and wildlife corridors, and support for a diverse and sustainable outdoor-recreation economy.
The report will also include potential actions by Interior and its bureaus to support the projects identified. On the Yampa River, for example, potential actions the Department could provide include supporting the acquisition of conservation easements from willing sellers and increase efforts to control invasive vegetation that seriously threatens important river values.
The Department could also provide technical and financial support to connect the three national wildlife refuges in the metro region. Provide financial assistance for water quality and riparian habitat improvements and for work to extend trails and open space along the South Platte River and Sand Creek Greenway.
The Department of the Interior will work with each of its key bureaus -- including the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service -- to direct available resources and personnel to make these projects a reality.
"The America's Great Outdoors Initiative turns the conventional wisdom about the federal government's role in conservation on its head," Salazar said. "Rather than dictate policies or conservation strategies from Washington, it supports grassroots, locally driven initiatives."