From The Chaffee County Times (Mason Miller) via The Leadville Herald:
After an effort spanning several decades, a commemorative ceremony was held for Browns Canyon Saturday to celebrate its national monument status.
The event was held at Buena Vista High School gym after rain and wind relocated the ceremony from the Buena Vista River Park.
Browns Canyon was officially designated a national monument in February by President Obama.
Speakers included Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, as well as other state, federal and local representatives.
“We did it,” Jewell proclaimed to the crowd of more than 700 supporters, summarizing the theme of many of the speeches made.
“I feel like the guy who kicked the field goal at the end of the game,” Executive Director for Friends of Browns Canyon Keith Baker said. “There were so many people involved throughout the years. This wouldn’t be possible without all of them.”
Jewell, a former CEO of Recreational Equipment Inc., a retail company for sporting goods and outdoor recreation gear, said the economic impact that national monuments like Browns Canyon have on local economies should not be underestimated.
“In Browns Canyon alone, as I understand it, it’s nearly a $60 million dollar business per year in the rafting industry,” Jewell said.
“When you think about the impact on the community that having a national monument has, there is no question that specially protected landscapes like this are very good for local economies.”
Buena Vista Mayor Joel Benson expressed similar sentiments.
“I’ve talked with many people at my own business and so many of them tell me they’ve come all the way to our community just to visit Browns Canyon.”
Both Hickenlooper and Bennet spoke about the divisiveness the declaration of national monuments creates politically, but in spite of these differences citizens and government officials have to persevere to protect these places for generations to come.
“We have to make sure these wilderness areas are accessible for our children and their children,” Hickenlooper said.
“Keep doing what you’re doing, because it’s working,” Bennet exclaimed during his speech. “It’s no surprise that D.C. is gridlocked when it comes to issues like this, but you see what’s possible when we come together to work with all of the stakeholders.”
Tom Tidwell, chief of the U.S. Forest Service, talked about what’s next for Browns Canyon.
“We have three years to develop a land management plan,” he said. “It’s important to take our time. We’ll have to work closely with the Bureau of Land Management and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to see this plan through to the end.”
Tidwell said the management plan will involve surveying the area to see what additional recreational facilities might be needed. Additionally, his staff will work closely with organizations like Friends of Browns Canyon to finish the plan in a timely manner.
Many of the speakers gave a special thanks to former U.S. Sen. Mark Udall for his tireless efforts as a supporter of both national monuments throughout the nation and of Browns Canyon. Udall was not in attendance.
More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.