ESTES PARK, Colorado – Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar joined members of the Colorado congressional delegation and local officials today to dedicate the Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness Area, nearly 250,000 acres within the park that will be permanently protected from human impacts under the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009.
Salazar also highlighted the Act's designation of 210,000 acres of federal land on the Uncompahgre Plateau as a conservation area, including 65,000 acres as wilderness area, and the establishment of the South Park National Heritage Area at the headwaters of the South Platte River and the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area in the San Luis Valley.
“With a single stroke of his pen, President Obama completed the work of so many Coloradans and other Americans who have sought to set aside this wilderness at Rocky Mountain National Park for more than three decades,” Salazar said. “He ensured our great-grandchildren and their great-grandchildren will visit a park that is like the park today – a vast and breathtaking landscape crafted by the forces of nature and undisturbed by the hand of humankind.”
Salazar was joined by Senator Mark Udall, Senator Michael Bennet, Congresswoman Betsy Markey, former Congressman David Skaggs, former Estes Park Mayor John Baudek, Grand Lake Mayor Judy Burke, former Larimer County commissioner Karen Wagner, and many other community leaders who have worked for years to convince Congress to designate the wilderness.
"Exploring this park gives one the sense of the majesty of the west and the solemnity of creation. It embodies the rugged beauty of Colorado, and it deserves to be granted this designation and the protection that comes with it," Senator Mark Udall said. "I have a personal family connection to this park through my grandfather as an outdoor guide, and I have hiked many of its trails, fished many of its streams, and climbed many of its peaks. It has taken a long trek to get here -- and it has taken the work of many people. But today, we have reached the summit, and I'm so proud that the reward is a park that generations of Americans will be able to enjoy."
“Rocky Mountain National Park is home to some of Colorado's most special places,” said Bennet. “By designating approximately 250,000 acres within RMNP as wilderness, we're making good on our responsibility to protect, preserve and pass down some of Colorado's most treasured landscapes for the enjoyment of generations of Americans to come.”
“This bill represents years of hard work by so many committed stakeholders, from local communities to the federal government,” said Congresswoman Betsy Markey. “This measure will do much to protect Colorado's public lands and water, which are critical to preserving Colorado's way of life. Wilderness designation for Rocky Mountain National Park will also help bolster Colorado tourism, which is a huge economic driver for our state.”
“The Rocky Mountain National Park wilderness area is one of the crown jewels of the public lands package recently signed by President Obama,” said Congressman Salazar. “These bills represent years of work and input from communities across my district and throughout Colorado. I was honored to work with my brother – first when he was in the Senate and now as Secretary of Interior - to do my part to help make these projects become a reality. They will help protect Colorado's land, water, natural beauty for generations to come.”
“It is a great day for Colorado to dedicate this crown jewel of national parks as a National Wilderness Area,” said Congressman Perlmutter. “I applaud our Congressional delegation, Sec. Salazar and the towns of Grand Lake and Estes Park for their hard work and commitment to preserving these lands for future generations to enjoy.”
In March, President Obama signed the Act, which includes provisions to protect 2 million acres of wilderness in nine states and a thousand miles of rivers.
The National Park Service first recommended the Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness designation in the 1970s but repeated attempts at Congressional passage fell short.
The Act also obligates the federal government to pay 65 percent of the cost of building the 130-mile water delivery system from Pueblo Dam to communities throughout the Arkansas River Valley.
Furthermore, it authorizes $8.25 million to rehabilitate the Jackson Gulch irrigation canal, which delivers water from Jackson Gulch Dam to residents, farms and businesses in Montezuma County.
“Today is just the beginning. I believe we are at the start of the Obama era of conservation, an era I hope will rival the eras of Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy,” Salazar said. “In coming years, we will have many days like today when we join together to celebrate new partnerships and new successes in conserving our treasured landscapes.”