Colorado is blessed with some of the most majestic, awe-inspiring public lands in the nation, from the Pawnee National Grassland on the Eastern Plains to Mesa Verde National Park in the Four Corners region to national forests that blanket the Western Slope.
Our public lands and national parks enrich our lives and provide what former National Park Service Director Stephen T. Mather called "the antidote for national restlessness."
When you think of what makes these places great, a common thread connects them all: Their beauty leaves us awestruck. Their vastness reminds us of our place in this world. And the adventures they contain are more exciting than those in the greatest novels.
Following a year of public outreach and discussions with the residents of Chaffee County, I am convinced that Browns Canyon - one of the most spectacular gems in Colorado that I have visited many times and the most-rafted stretch of river in the United States - meets these criteria.
That was why I unveiled a proposal last month to create the Browns Canyon National Monument and Wilderness Area. My plan, based on input from the people of Chaffee County and stakeholders across Colorado, will ensure that future generations of Coloradans can enjoy the unique mix of exciting whitewater and wilderness so close to the Front Range.
The proposed national monument would cover 22,000 acres between Salida and Buena Vista and include 10,500 acres of new wilderness.
But establishing the Browns Canyon National Monument is about more than protecting this stunning area - it's also about creating jobs and boosting Chaffee County's local economy. My proposal would put a gold star on the map and responsibly draw tourists from across the nation and around the world to the Arkansas River Valley.
This plan also takes into account local needs and the people who live and work around Browns Canyon.
For example, my bill maintains existing roads and legal motorized access in and around the proposed national monument, including along the Turret Trail. Rafting and river use will continue as well, bolstering the Browns Canyon area's reputation as a premier whitewater destination.
And my draft legislation also acknowledges the needs of hunters, anglers and local ranchers. My bill aims to maintain their use of our public lands and protect fish and game habitats so that future generations can partake in the same sporting traditions we enjoy today.
My approach is emblematic of how we should approach public lands: taking into account local needs and individualizing management plans that work for local communities.
That's why I propose keeping the management of this area as it is now - under the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife - so that its protection can continue to match the values of the community and the circumstances on the ground.
What makes this proposal work is that it is rooted in the needs and preferences of the people of Chaffee County. And I am not finished yet: I look forward to continuing this conversation both during public meetings I will host to gather feedback and through my website where folks can find copies of the draft bill and map.
Famed author and conservationist Wallace Stegner once said that our national monuments and parks "are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst."
This proposal truly represents democracy at its best: Public lands by and for local communities, and the sum of Chaffee County's finest ideas.