For me, and so many Coloradans, the outdoors is an important part of our quality of life. It's where we recreate, hunt and fish, and find excitement or peace of mind. And, for many outfitters, restaurateurs, hotel owners and other small businessmen, preservation of our state's majestic mountains and valleys is vital for our livelihoods.
As chairman of the U.S. Senate's Subcommittee on National Parks and co-chairman of the bipartisan Outdoor Recreation Caucus, I'm committed to ensuring Coloradans have a wide variety of options for recreation, including places to bike, ski and snowmobile - as well as backcountry trails and wide-open pristine lands that will be preserved for generations. Wilderness is one of our state's great economic engines. Protected public lands help create jobs and keep entrepreneurs and investment moving to and thriving in our state.
That's why I'm proud to launch a collaborative, community-driven process I hope will ultimately allow Colorado to create legislation for wilderness and national monument designations in two areas - the Central Mountains and the Arkansas River Canyon. If we do it in the right way - with a bottom-up rather than top-down approach - protecting public lands will support jobs, our economy, and the quality of life that makes Colorado the envy of the world.
With the support of Sen. Michael Bennet, I'm asking Coloradans in those communities what they would like to see from a wilderness proposal. My goal is to build on work that has been done previously and develop a plan that a majority of the community agrees will support their interests and their local economies. In order to facilitate the conversation with these communities, I've developed draft maps of possible wilderness boundaries, which will give us a firm base to compare notes and ideas.
For example, the Central Mountains proposal could encompass as many as 32 areas in Eagle, Pitkin and Summit counties, expanding wilderness areas in the region, including Holy Cross, Eagles Nest and the Maroon Bells. I envision a bill that promotes the region as a world-class destination for outdoor recreation while protecting pre-existing uses, such as the Colorado Air National Guard's high-altitude helicopter training area.
The second proposal would protect some of our best-loved river rafting spots along the iconic Arkansas River between Salida and Buena Vista by designating the area as a national monument. The official designation would literally put the region on the map, drawing more visitors to the area's world-class outdoor recreation opportunities and supporting the local tourism economy.
Before we do anything, it's important to me to hear from as many Coloradans as possible. I've posted all of the maps at http://markudall.senate.gov/outdoorheritage, along with an e-mail comment form. I encourage you to share your thoughts about the maps, how the land is used today and your vision for the future of these special places. My staff and I will meet with stakeholders and talk through the issues for each area.
Activities such as hiking, skiing, paddling and fishing contribute more than $10 billion annually to our economy, supporting some 100,000 Colorado jobs and generating $500 million in state tax revenue. Wilderness ensures skiers and hikers have beautiful vistas, anglers have clean streams in which to fish, and hunters have healthy big-game herds. These resources attract visitors from all over the nation and world.
With our population expected to double by 2050, we need to be proactive so that future generations can experience the beauty, clean water and air, and wildlife that we have today. I'm proud of my successful past work to designate wilderness at James Peak and in Rocky Mountain National Park, as well as the proposed San Juan Mountains Wilderness. I look forward to this process and encourage all Coloradans to join in the conversation.
Mark Udall is a Democratic senator from Colorado.