Outdoor enthusiasts gather for National Public Lands Day
As we slide into autumn, with the first measurable snow of the 2017-2018 winter spotting Grand Mesa and big-game hunting (moose season began Oct. 1) hard upon us, it’s time to give thanks for our public lands.
In case you missed it, Sept. 30 was National Public Lands Day (it’s celebrated annually on the fourth Saturday in September). As has become customary in its 18 years, many outdoor groups across the nation, ranging from bikers and birders to hikers and ATVers and more, spend the day in volunteer service to public lands.
This year was a bit different, in that from mid-morning Saturday and well into Sunday, an early winter storm dropped up to 18 inches of snow across parts of Colorado.
What is it about the “best-laid plans of mice and men?”
According to the National Environmental Education Foundation, National Public Lands Day has become the nation’s “largest, single-day volunteer effort for public lands.”
As such, the day is an opportunity to reconnect people with public lands. In 2016, more than 200,000 people participated in activities at more than 26 sites across the nation.
Many local groups were among this year’s participants, including a band of volunteers from the Grand Mesa Nordic Council whose adventures Saturday included Joyce Tanihara and Charlie Winger chopping apart and moving an immense fallen tree off one of the ski trails at the Ward Trail Nordic ski area.
Other GMNC volunteers, including GMNC President Winslow Robertson, spent several pre-storm hours putting together the ski shelter at the newly remodeled Skyway Nordic area trail head.
“It wasn’t too bad,” Robertson offered in retrospect. “We managed to get everyone deployed, and assigned them to 3 different trail heads for the morning. The weather held off just long enough, and we made it back to the parking lot before it unloaded on us.”
Other local groups in action Saturday included COPMOBA, whose members began a project aimed at stopping some erosion in a wash near the end of 18 Road that threatened the Prime Cut bike trail.
COPMOBA coordinator John Howe said the group started building a rock bridge across the wash but got rained out prior to finishing. The project was to be completed Saturday.
Also, Killian Rush of Americorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) led a handful of Trail Steward volunteers from Colorado Canyons Association on a rain-shortened foray into the McDonald Creek area of Rabbit Valley before being turned back by a lightning storm.
If nothing else, what this list exemplifies is the tremendous array of public lands available to us.
Living in Colorado, particularly in western Colorado, means living with public land. In recognition, Colorado was the first state to designate an annual state Public Lands Day (the third Saturday in May) with legislation signed last year by Gov. John Hickenlooper.
It’s hard, nearly impossible, to leave the house and not stop on public land, whether its Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, National Park Service or any of the other state or federal agencies managing lands in western Colorado.
Although much of our current land and water regulations derive from feudal management considerations, it’s still comforting to know that Colorado, with its 23.3-million acres of public land, offers recreation opportunities for everyone.
While actual figures aren’t available, an estimated 72 percent of Colorado’s hunters depend on public lands for hunting. Continuing attempts in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere to curtail access to public lands or even privatize those lands make it imperative that sportsmen and public land recreationists raise their voices in protest, said Land Tawney, president and CEO of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.
The group, which preaches keeping public lands in public hands, has long been a staunch voice supporting conservation and protection of public lands.
“As hunting seasons begin across the country, American hunters and anglers everywhere are taking a moment to appreciate our public lands and the irreplaceable outdoor experiences they give us,” Tawney said.
He urged hunters and anglers to “get involved, and speak up for the places that make our outdoors traditions possible.”
Both Colorado senators have spoken out against the transfer of public lands.
“Send a message to those who would steal our lands and waters and deny us our outdoor heritage,” Tawney said. “I know what I believe in: Our public lands and waters.”