Obama signs wilderness bill
April 1, 2009
Grand Lake Mayor Judy Burke was at the White House to witness President Obama sign the federal Omnibus Lands Bill, a bill that includes Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness legislation.
The mayor was among roughly 90 people outside of legislators and reporters who attended the ceremony at the White House on Monday. Those invited were considered integral to the 160-plus pieces of public-lands legislation packaged in the bulk bill.
In his speech, the President quoted conservationist President Teddy Roosevelt: “I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our lands; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.”
The passing of the bill designates nearly 250,000 acres of Rocky Mountain National Park land as wilderness, the U.S. government’s highest tier of land protection.
During its crafting, Grand Lake and Grand County, along with the local Headwaters Trails Alliance, successfully advocated allowing for a non-wilderness buffer around Grand Lake to allow for wildland firefighting by mechanical means as well as a future hiking and bicycle trail. The bill also clarifies a buffer along Shadow Mountain Reservoir’s east shore for a possible Headwaters Trail that would connect Granby to Grand Lake.
Already on Wednesday, Mayor Burke met with Park officials to get the trail topic rolling. The wilderness bill decrees that the future trail be surveyed within a year of the bill signing.
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Speaking to Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness, Obama said the bill realizes a vision 35 years in-the-making.
“Folks in communities around this park know they don’t have to choose between economic and environmental concerns; the tourism that drives their local economy depends on good stewardship of their local environment. And year after year, these communities have worked together with members of Congress in an attempt to ensure that Rocky Mountain National Park will forever remain as breathtaking as it is today,” the President said.
The Rocky Mountain National Park wilderness “little bill that could” had been lingering just outside the threshold of legislation since the Nixon era.
Until Congress acted on President Nixon’s RMNP Wilderness recommendation, the park was managed as if it were a Wilderness Area.
Sen. Mark Udall, formerly U.S. Rep. Udall, introduced RMNP wilderness legislation in every congressional session starting in 1999.
When non-wilderness buffers were secured in the bill, the Town of Grand Lake firmly stood behind it.
“Preservation of the park is of course important because we rely on it so heavily for the tourists coming form the park. And it’s our back yard,” said Burke, “so we need to preserve it as much as we can.”
In a statement released Tuesday, Park Superintendent Vaughn Baker also praised the passing of the bill.
“We at Rocky welcome the signing of the Omnibus Public Lands bill into law,” he said, “the culmination of an effort that began in 1974 and was jump started in recent years through the efforts of many including our gateway communities of Grand Lake and Estes Park. This designation is a great gift to present and future generations of park users.”
Mayor Burke had received a call at 4 p.m. on Friday from a White House appointments scheduler, who extended an invitation to attend the bill signing. Burke was off to Washington D.C. by Sunday.
“It was particularly exciting for the town to know that it has an influence, that small-town America has a voice in what happens on the national level,” she said when back in Grand Lake, on Wednesday. Estes Park Mayor Bill Pinkham was also in attendance at Monday’s ceremony.
It was the second time Burke had gone to Washington on the subject of Park wilderness legislation, and her second time to the White House.
Her first White House experience, she said, was not in a political capacity, but as a Hartford, Kansas high school teacher back in the 1970s on a trip with students to the National Future Business Leaders of America conference.
With 315,000 Colorado acres as part of the Omnibus Lands law, in total, 2 million acres in nine states gained increased protections.
Referring to her town’s closest neighbor and its newest status: “It’s good that there are some positive things happening with all the negative things happening in the world right now,” Burke said.
– Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.