A public lands story

We can thank our public lands for the estimated $2.5 million economic impact that should result from hosting the Grand Junction Off-Road mountain biking race over the weekend.

Ever since Colorado became the first state in the country to set aside a day recognizing the value of public lands, we've had the race driving the point home locally. For the past three years, Colorado Public Lands Day — officially the third Saturday in May — has coincided with the race. Gov. Jared Polis used the occasion — as did his predecessor — to speak publicly in Grand Junction about how public lands are central to Colorado's economy and way of life.

The race is here because of the network of world-class mountain biking trails on public land in proximity to downtown. But those trails — and the BLM-managed land they traverse — are good for more than one bonanza weekend a year. They fuel tourism and retail spending on outdoor gear — and most importantly — connect people with the outdoors all year round.

They're a focal point of Grand Junction's ambition to market itself as an outdoors mecca — an effort that was greatly abetted last week through an impressive public-private partnership years in the making.

A wind-swept ground-breaking ceremony on Wednesday marked the start of construction on a $2.5 million paved trail that will connect the Tabeguache trail head (aka the Lunch Loops) with the Colorado Riverfront Trail and downtown Grand Junction.

This is a significant piece of infrastructure at minimal cost to local taxpayers. The city of Grand Junction and Mesa County are pitching in $225,000 apiece. The rest comes from grants and donations. The city applied for grants from Great Outdoors Colorado ($1.5 million) and Colorado Parks and Wildlife ($400,000).

The rest was largely raised by Colorado West Land Trust through appeals to private foundations. The trust also played the leading role in acquiring and conserving land for the trail and sparked a community visioning process for the Monument Road corridor by landing a planning grant from the National Park Service.

The result is an investment in the community's health, well-being and social equity. The Riverside neighborhood is close to the Tabeguache trail head as the crow flies, but difficult to get to by bike or on foot. It won't be after the connector is built, opening up recreational possibilities that had been limited to those with access to vehicles capable of transporting bikes.

It's the kind of project that perfectly encapsulates why public lands and access to them are so important to Coloradans. The city, the county, the BLM, the land trust are to be commended for forming a productive partnership and enlisting the support of numerous stakeholders — from trail users to donors — to deliver an important amenity that will benefit the community for years to come.

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