Given what’s happening on the political landscape these days, including rollbacks of important progress on climate, potentially steep budget cuts to the agency that is responsible for protecting our air and water, and additional cuts that have been promised at the Department of Interior, it felt trivial as I sat down to write about a trip this summer to Columbine Lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness of central Colorado.
After all, it was a very short trip, only a couple of days, and a short drive from Denver. The outing was hastily planned, designed to take advantage of the last days of summer, and to make up for a summer that had too few days away from the distractions and harried pace of daily life. It was just a little time to spend with my son, his best friend Louie, and his dad, my friend Jeff.
The trip turned out to be just what I needed, an opportunity to hike above the tree line and take in a view of peaks and valleys stretching out for a hundred miles, to hang-out in a beautiful setting, to fish and sleep in the outdoors. We were treated to a beautiful sunset, nighttime tranquility, and a sun rise that made my jaw drop and made me feel at peace at the same time. The boys struggled with the aging water filter in a spring, falling in, spilling water, and starting over again. We watched the fish rise in an otherwise still lake in the evening. It gave us a chance to talk into the night and to cement already strong friendships.
This is what our public lands, our natural heritage, do for the many millions of us who get to enjoy them. These experiences renew us. They connect us to places that have been minimally impacted by human development. They take us out of our lives in the built environment. And they connect us even more to the people we are lucky enough to escape with. These are the places that make the West what it is, and they are the places that deserve our protection. They are the places that are drawing people to our communities and a strong part of why our economies are thriving. These are the places that are the West’s competitive advantage and the driver of our quality of life.
I came back from the trip refreshed. But also reminded of the value of our public lands. Whether it’s wilderness, like Indian Peaks, any of the crown jewels – our National Parks in the West – or wildlife and national recreation areas, it’s critically important that we seek protection for more of these places. This includes the newest among our National Monuments, like Gold Butte in Nevada and Bears Ears in Utah (currently under attack), which not only provides world class climbing but also seeks to preserve the cultural heritage of five tribes in the region. These places have been proven to strengthen our local and regional economies. Each year there are more visitors, more people who want to explore and play in the great outdoors. More people today appreciate that spending time in these places makes us happier. Public lands inspire us, and they help restore our connection to the natural world. We need more of this. It’s worth protecting.
I want to make sure that we all have the opportunity to have experiences like these with our families and our friends, now and in the decades and centuries to come. That’s why Western Resource Advocates is committed to our vision of protecting half of western landscapes to support thriving wildlife populations and our natural, cultural and outdoor heritage. Our team is protecting the West in so many different ways: developing land conservation strategies at the state level, protecting and restoring rivers and streams, fighting air pollution in Utah, and putting the West on the path to a carbon-free economy. I hope that because of the work we are doing today, someday my son can take his own son or his own daughter on an impromptu trip to Columbine Lake to share the same sense of awe and peace that he and I experienced together.