Written by Scott Braden, Wilderness and Public Lands Advocate
As I head to Buena Vista this weekend for the official dedication of Browns Canyon National Monument, it is with a heart full of emotions. In February, President Obama proclaimed Browns Canyon as Colorado’s newest national monument, concluding an almost 40 year effort to protect it. I worked on the proposal for four years, both at Conservation Colorado and in my previous tenure at the Colorado Mountain Club, and many of my coalition partners for much longer.
I am also thinking a lot about my colleague Becca Strelitz, who we lost earlier this summer to a motorcycle accident, and what a good time she would have had in Buena Vista this weekend. We worked together on this campaign and it meant the world to her. I like to think she would have had a blast this weekend, toasting the new monument. She will be missed…
Navigating environmental work can sometimes seem impossibly complex, but Browns Canyon National Monument is just one of those things that inherently seems like a good idea. It elevates a crown jewel of Colorado’s public lands, sustains the local recreation economy, and protects the natural resources and splendid scenery.
But the path has been a long one. Browns Canyon has been proposed for wilderness in several bills in Congress, including bills introduced by former Rep. Joel Hefley, a conservative Colorado Springs Republican and Denver’s Rep. Diana DeGette. Former Senator Mark Udall tried to break the pattern and proposed, instead, a legislative national monument with a wilderness area within. But despite rousing local and statewide support, deadlock in Congress stymied Udall’s bill as well.
Fortunately, there was another path forward. After the election, in late 2014, Senator Michael Bennet and Governor John Hickenlooper issued a joint letter asking President Obama to consider designating Browns a national monument with his authority under the Antiquities Act. After a public meeting in December with a stirring demonstration of local and regional support (over 500 people showed up in support!), the administration acted decisively to proclaim Browns Canyon National Monument.
For me, the story of protecting Browns Canyon is a lesson in perseverance and pragmatism. If you have something worthwhile, never give up on it, and be open to different paths to getting the thing done. It paid off for Browns, and the nation, state of Colorado and the Arkansas River valley are the richer for it. And I am glad that I played a small role in making that happen, and happy that I got to know and work with talented and passionate people, people like Becca Strelitz, along the way.