Conservationists, members of Congress and other agencies celebrated a new addition to one of America’s hidden gems last week west of Gunnison. The addition includes 2,949 acres within the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
This past Friday, the National Park Service (NPS) and nonprofit Conservation Fund celebrated the addition at Pulpit Rock Overlook, welcoming U.S. Sens. Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet as well as Congressman Scott Tipton, each of whom helped secure appropriations for the land.
The land was conserved largely due to the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) — a program that uses a percentage of offshore oil and gas royalties, rather than tax dollars — to acquire property and other resources.
“National parks are much like people, they are always in the process of evolving,” said Black Canyon Superintendent Bruce Noble of the acquisition.
The land, located on the park’s South Rim, was acquired from a willing seller in 2016. More than 2,000 acres were then conveyed to NPS in December 2017 utilizing LWCF funds. Established 53 years ago, LWCF is set to expire on Sept. 30, unless Congress moves to reauthorize the program.
“By acquiring this parcel, the park has enhanced public access, made efficient land management easier and preserved the pristine visitor experience,” said Sen. Gardner, who advocated for the permanent reauthorization of LWCF this coming month.
According to NPS, the addition to the park will provide access for additional recreation opportunities, crucial wildlife habitat and even potential utility improvements within the park.
“This event celebrates the partnership between NPS and The Conservation Fund,” said NPS’ Noble. “The event also provides an opportunity to showcase the value of preserving viewsheds, wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities.”
The newly acquired property includes a well, allowing NPS to pursue providing water for visitors and staff — which the agency hopes will reduce operational costs currently incurred by hauling water into the park.
The property additionally provides greater access to intermediate-level hiking opportunities as well as family friendly hikes near the South Rim Visitor Center. The land also will allow for access to fly-fishing on the Gunnison River, a popular pastime in the park.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park saw more than 300,000 visitors in 2017 alone. However, the numbers suggest the park is actually one of the least visited in the nation, ranking 43rd out of 59 parks for total visitors last year.
In Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park saw a whopping 4.43 million visitors, and Mesa Verde welcomed more than 600,000 visitors.
“When someone comes from Illinois or Indiana or Georgia and they come to this park and see this view, the incredible landscape — knowing this is what we will see for generations is truly remarkable,” added Gardner.
Gardner added that LWCF is “the crown-jewel of conservation programs,” citing both environmental and economic gains at no cost to taxpayers.
Gunnison’s Dave Wiens, who also serves as executive director of the Boulderbased International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) also was in attendance advocating for reauthorization of LWCF.
“I’m here representing mountain bikers from Colorado and across America who value access to high-quality outdoor recreation on public lands,” Wiens said in a prepared statement from IMBA. “This acquisition using LWCF funding is representative of how valuable the program is to all outdoor recreational users. There are numerous examples around Colorado of LWCF-funded projects that benefit mountain bikers, hikers, trail runners, anglers, hunters, climbers, paddlers and other outdoor enthusiasts.
“That this program may expire at the end of September is simply unacceptable for trails close to home and around the country,” Wiens continued.
Established in 1964, the LWCF was a bipartisan commitment by Congress to use royalties from offshore oil and gas extraction to protect natural areas and resources, providing for outdoor recreation and access.
IMBA noted that LWCF has invested more than $260 million to protect Colorado’s outdoors and provide recreation opportunities that help fuel the state’s $28 billion outdoor recreation industry. In Colorado, trails in seven national forests have received more than $70 million in LWCF funding.
NPS is currently addressing the permitting process and access for the newly acquired land, with no immediate changes planned for the Red Rock Canyon Wilderness Permit lottery or access from the Bostwick Park area east of Montrose.
“Strategic conservation of properties like this one are a triple win for the environment, outdoor recreation and the local economy,” said Christine Quinlan, Western field representative with the Conservation Fund.
(Kate Gienapp can be reached at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org .)