Close this search box.

Wild Ambitions

With the proposed CORE Act, Sen. Bennet and Rep. Neguse hope to protect 400,000 acres of public land in Colorado and build a long-lasting sustainable economy.

In 2017, the outdoor retailer trade show made the decision to leave its longtime home in Salt Lake City, Utah, and move to Denver. The reason was simple: The governor, state politicians, and Utah’s national congressional delegation all continued to devalue and threaten public land. The outdoor community sent  a clear message: Wild places, conservation, public lands, and outdoor recreation all add up to create a sustainable economy. 

In January, Colorado’s Democratic Sen., Michael Bennett, and Colorado 2nd District Rep., Joe Neguse, introduced a bill that proves just how committed this state is to outdoor recreation and wilderness. The Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act would protect 400,000 acres of public land in Colorado, including the creation of 73,000 acres of wilderness. But the bill goes deeper than just wilderness protection, which prohibits motorized use and mountain biking, to coalesce support from a big tent of stakeholders. It would also designate 80,000 acres of new, non-wilderness recereation and conservation management areas in Colorado that would allow for existing uses, such as mountain biking. The Act would also preserve Camp Hale, where the 10th Mountain Division trained before fighting in Europe during World War II. Furthermore, the bill stops oil and gas development on lands that are key to local ranchers. That attempt to appeal to everyone has rallied up broad support, with organizations ranging from county commissioners to Icelantic skis to Backcountry Hunters and Anglers to The Wilderness Society getting behind the bill.

For the lawmakers, the most important aspect of the CORE Act is that it’s a grassroots bill. It brings together the efforts of local on-the-ground conservation groups across the state, from Summit County to the San Juans, merging four previously introduced bills: the Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness and Camp Hale Legacy Act; the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act; the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act; and the Curecanti National Recreation Area Boundary Establishment Act.

“It represents the work of people for over a decade in their communities,” says Bennet. “This is not a bill that was written in Washington. It is a bill that has been written throughout communities all across the state of Colorado, and I think people who have been working on separate pieces of legislation had a mutual interest in combining them together. So we were happy to lead it, and when we pass it, the act will preserve the legacy of their work.” 

At the Outdoor Retailer Snow Show in Denver in January, a bevy of Colorado outdoor athletes, including legendary climber Tommy Caldwell and ultra-running champ and activist Clare Gallagher, made a point to speak up for the CORE Act.

“Colorado needs to protect and preserve as much wilderness and as many recreation management areas as possible,” says Gallagher. “It’s in these places that I trail run, bolster my physical and mental health, and connect with nature. The economics behind protecting public lands are clear: towns near wilderness areas have increased tourism. I want to see a Colorado 100 years from now that is sustained by sustainable industries like outdoor recreation.”

The lawmakers also stress that the bill envisions conseravtion and the protection of public lands as a measure that supports an economy fueled by outdoor recreation and a healthy quality of life, rather than boom-and-bust extractive industries.

“If passed, the CORE Act would be the largest public lands bill in a quarter century in Colorado,” says Bennet. “The title of this bill, which is called the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, says it all. We don’t believe in Colorado that you have to choose between economic growth and protecting the places you love. And in fact we have discovered that protecting the places you love generates economic growth. That’s pretty awesome.”

Read the full text of the bill at:

—Doug Schnitzspahn

Share this post:

Discover more in the Rockies: