On Wednesday, Alamosa-born Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar will return to his roots -- again -- as part of a long-simmering effort to promote tourism and conservation in Colorado's much-praised, much-neglected San Luis Valley. Accompanied by Governor John Hickenlooper and Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, Salazar will visit Adams State College for a "community conversation" to discuss a federal study that calls for -- well, more study, and possibly some action.
The point of the confab is to push the recommendations in the National Park Service's recently released San Luis Valley and Central Sangre de Cristo Mountains Reconnaissance Survey Report, which identifies significant wildlife corridors and heritage sites in a 3.2-million-acre area stretching across the Valley and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains into northern New Mexico. Salazar hopes to see more conservation easements, an ambitious recreational trail network, and landmark designations that will help spotlight some of the Valley's cultural treasures, from Colorado's oldest town to penitente gathering places to its sprawling, fourteener-backdropped Spanish land grants.
As a state natural resource director, U.S. senator and now Interior honcho, Salazar has probably been the best ally his home region has ever had in high places. He's pushed the Great Sand Dunes solar energy farms and any other potential economic engines he could find. He tried and failed to mediate the forty-year legal struggle over local access to the Taylor Ranch (referred to in the NPS report as La Sierra/Cielo Vista Ranch), but that's another story.
Yet it's also true that many initiatives to push economic development in the Valley have generated more talk and studies than substantial change. The same qualities that are celebrated among occasional visitors as part of the area's "charm" -- its remoteness, an agrarian history dominated by a few wealthy landowners, its "unspoiledness" and so on -- have proven to be formidable hurdles to long-term, sustainable job opportunities. Here's hoping that the latest initiative can promote not just conversation, but conservation -- and growth.
For additional information about tomorrow's festivities, click here.
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