Parks and Wildlife Releases Plan Linking Conservation and Outdoor Recreation

Kenzie Bruce
Coloradans love to get outdoors. In fact, 92 percent of residents recreate outside at least once every few weeks. And the outdoor recreation industry in Colorado pulls in $62 billion annually and employs over half a million Coloradans.

With so many people spending time outside in the Centennial State, Colorado Parks and Wildlife authored the Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan, which highlights the relationship between conservation and outdoor recreation.

"Who we are and what we have to offer is directly tied to the outdoor resources that we have. Without correct protection and utilization of those resources, that economic engine will be hurt," says Luis Benitez, director of Colorado's Outdoor Recreation Industry Office.

Every five years, Parks and Wildlife announces a new iteration of this plan, a requirement to continue receiving funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. But Parks and Wildlife also views the plan as an opportunity to be transparent and indicate which outdoor recreation and conservation partners the government agency is working with.

Past versions have focused more on recreation, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife. But feedback from stakeholders, such as hunting, angling and mountain-biking organizations, and government employees led to a new version that holds up both outdoor recreation and conservation as equally important and overlapping.

The plan details four priorities that local and state government officials, as well as outdoor recreation professionals, should consider when working on outdoor recreation projects over the next five years: sustainable access and opportunity, promotion of stewardship, conservation and sustainable funding.

Rebecca Ferrell of Colorado Parks and Wildlife views the promotion of stewardship among all Coloradans as one of the highlights of the plan. "We're trying to get people to understand that you don't necessarily have to work for an organization to implement a plan like this. There are things that we can all do, like 'leave no trace,' and it falls on all of Colorado so we do have sustainable access for the future."

In a letter introducing the plan, outgoing governor John Hickenlooper pointed to his past accomplishments in promoting outdoor recreation in Colorado.

In 2015, Hickenlooper created the nation's second Outdoor Recreation Industry Office and appointed Benitez as its director. That same year, Hickenlooper also announced his Colorado the Beautiful initiative, designed so that "within a generation, every Coloradan will live within ten minutes of a park, trail, or vibrant green space."

Ferrell is happy about the new plan and the other work that she and her colleagues have accomplished with Hickenlooper, and says it's been "a long, fruitful eight years working with the governor."
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.