Speech: Remarks for Secretary Salazar Rocky Mountain Arsenal Visitor Center Ribbon-Cutting

Last edited 09/05/2019

Secretary Ken Salazar

Denver, Colorado

Good morning.

Thank you, Governor. It's great to be here with you and with so many friends.

It is fitting that here, today, in Colorado, we are opening a premier example of an America's Great Outdoors urban park and wildlife area. This truly is the gateway to conservation.

This gateway marks the transformation of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal from a toxic dumping ground to the home of bison, birds, and native prairie; from a chemical weapons depot to a spectacular, eco-friendly visitor center that will welcome more than 200,000 families, kids and outdoor enthusiasts each year.

The visitor center will be the gateway to a new effort to create a Rocky Mountain Greenway System that, over time, will connect these 27 square miles to the crown jewel of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Across America, an army of citizens is doing all they can to leave our land, water, and wildlife better than we found it.

Ranchers and hunters in South Dakota are setting aside wetlands for migratory birds.

Farmers and ranchers in my native San Luis Valley are restoring the waterways that sustain their lands.

And young people are beating down our doors at the Department of the Interior to join our new and expanded youth corps, so they can help build trails, battle invasive species, and return America's lands to good health. I'm proud that, last year alone, more than 21,000 young people across the nation joined our 21st century conservation corps.

The conservation spirit sweeping our country is a community-driven, citizen-powered, bottom-up movement that is part of President Obama's America's Great Outdoors initiative.

My job as Secretary of the Interior is straightforward: I want to help you and the people across America implement the America's Great Outdoors agenda.

Through America's Great Outdoors, we are supporting local and state-driven conservation efforts in many ways.

This gateway to conservation visitor center created engineering and construction jobs here in Colorado. It is part of the legacy of the President's economic recovery efforts that will sustain economic activities in this area for decades to come and spur tourism, recreation and high quality development in the surrounding areas.

This is happening everywhere. It is about conservation. It is also about jobs. Indeed, the outdoor industry alone creates an estimated 6.5 million jobs in the United States and pumps an estimated $730 billion a year into our nation's economy.

Last year, President Obama launched the America's Great Outdoors Initiative and we are working to implement its vision in all 50 states.

The America's Great Outdoors Initiative turns the conventional wisdom about the federal government's role in conservation on its head. Rather than dictate policies or conservation strategies from Washington, it supports grassroots, consensus-based initiatives.

Over the last year, we've heard from more than 100,000 citizens across America. We have also been meeting with Governors about their America's Great Outdoors priorities for their states.

In Wyoming, we heard from Governor Mead about how conservation easements are helping keep farms alive and wildlife corridors healthy.

In Arkansas, we heard from Governor Beebe about his vision of connecting the 750,000 people of Little Rock with almost 3,000 miles of recreational trails.

And here in Colorado – where we started it all – we heard from your wonderful Governor about three priority projects that exemplify the main goals of America's Great Outdoors: to establish or enhance great urban parks; to restore important river corridors; and to conserve rural, working landscapes.

Governor Hickenlooper's identified priorities are real projects, with real potential and with a real capacity to make a difference in the lives of Coloradans.

I proudly endorse these three initiatives and look forward to working with the Governor to make them a reality.

Today's ribbon-cutting on the Gateway to Conservation marks the start of our efforts on them.


In the Yampa River Basin, we will partner with Governor Hickenlooper and local communities to conserve what is one of the most spectacular landscapes in our country.

As the largest free-flowing river in Colorado, the Yampa River supports a basin rich with agricultural heritage, unique wildlife habitat, and boundless outdoor recreation opportunities.

But sedimentation and invasive plants are just some of the things that threaten the health and well being of the Yampa River and all who depend on it.

Through the America's Great Outdoors project in the Yampa River Basin, we will seek to boost efforts already underway to preserve the Yampa and our rural way of life.

Through conservation easements, stewardship projects and other tools, the Yampa River Basin project will build on initiatives to work with local ranchers to preserve working ranches.

With a stronger federal partnership, we can leverage resources to speed up the pace and scale of these important conservation measures.

As part of this effort, I expect to meet again later this year – as I did yesterday – with the communities of northwest Colorado and open up the new visitor center at Dinosaur National Monument.


The second America's Great Outdoors project we are announcing today seeks to conserve and protect the Rio Grande River Corridor and the Sangre de Cristo mountain range in the San Luis Valley.

The San Luis Valley in Southern Colorado – where my family has ranched the same land for 150 years – is a very special place. It is framed by the beautiful Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east and the San Juan Mountains to the west. It is carved by many rivers, including the headwaters of the Rio Grande.

Like the Yampa River Basin project, the San Luis Valley project will seek to build upon local efforts to conserve the Valley's vibrant ranching community and protect important wildlife resources and wetland habitat on a landscape scale.

Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service is already in the early stages of studying a new San Luis Valley Conservation Area in southern Colorado. This is a community-based effort that will use the agency's time-tested and highly-effective voluntary conservation easement program.

This approach is a “win-win” proposition that embodies the President's vision for 21st century conservation. It is already producing strong results in places such as the Blackfoot Valley and Rocky Mountain Front of Montana, the Flint Hills of Kansas, the grasslands of the Dakotas and the headwaters of the Everglades in Florida.

The Governor and I believe that the San Luis Valley project presents an unparalleled opportunity to align federal and state investment with private efforts in order to achieve truly landscape scale outcomes.


The third and final America's Great Outdoors project we are announcing today will establish a Rocky Mountain Greenway that will connect the Denver Greenway System to the three National Wildlife Refuges in the Denver metro region and, eventually, to the Rocky Mountain National Park.

Already, there are trails, open spaces and greenways that make up a strong network of recreational, wildlife, scenic and natural corridors that link up the communities of the metropolitan area and the nearly 3 million people who live here.

The Denver metro area system of trails and waterways is truly world class.

But we can do more.

The project we are announcing today will create a great urban park and wildlife corridor that will link creeks and river corridors and connections to state and federal parks, including Chatfield State Park, Cherry Creek State Park, Barr Lake State Park and our three refuges: the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge to the east, the Two Ponds National Wildlife Refuge in the center, and the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge to the west.

The project will build on the effort of five existing greenway coalitions within the Denver Metro Greenway System, all of which include an array of public and private partners.

As we work on this effort, we will enhance the connection of the people of the Denver metro region to the Rocky Mountain National Park. Eventually we hope to see a network of trails that connect up the National Park to the mountain backdrop of Larimer, Boulder, Jefferson and Douglas counties to this great Rocky Mountain Greenway.

Turning this vision into reality will take the commitment and coordination of local, state and federal partners. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service stand ready to assist, and Secretary Vilsack and the U.S. Forest Service have been - and will be - critical partners in this effort.

To show that we're serious about this, the Fish and Wildlife Service today is announcing that we are targeting $350,000 to connect up the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge to the greenway trails on Sand Creek and the South Platte River.


I am proud to stand here today with my friend Governor Hickenlooper to announce these three important initiatives under the banner of President Obama's America's Great Outdoors initiative.

Today begins a new chapter in the strong conservation partnership between the State of Colorado and the Department of the Interior.

This partnership will protect rural landscapes and working ranches in the Yampa River Basin.

This partnership will conserve important wildlife corridors in the San Luis Valley.

And this partnership will support and enhance a great urban park in metropolitan Denver and beyond.

In short, today marks a new era of conservation in Colorado – one that will benefit generations to come.

I thank Governor Hickenlooper for his enthusiastic support of the America's Great Outdoors initiative, and I look forward to working with him as we turn visions into reality – starting with cutting the ribbon on the new visitor center.

Thank you.

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