Browns Canyon — located along the Arkansas River between Buena Vista and Salida — took another step toward national monument status on Tuesday when U.S. Sen. Mark Udall announced plans to introduce the Browns Canyon National Monument and Wilderness Act.
“Over the last 18 months I developed this bill working side by side with Chaffee County leaders, residents, businesses and other stakeholders. We developed this community-driven bill to ensure future generations of Coloradans can enjoy Browns Canyon’s unique mix of whitewater and wilderness,” Udall said Tuesday.
He met with local officials in Salida and Buena Vista to announce his plans going forward.
“Our goal is to push this through this session of Congress,” Udall spokesman Mike Saccone said.
If approved, the act will preserve 22,000 acres of land around the popular whitewater rafting destination on the Arkansas River. The monument proposal includes 10,500 new acres of wilderness area.
“It’s very positive for us in all aspects,” Noah’s Ark Whitewater Rafting Co. manager Micah Salazar said of the bill. “It’s a great way to preserve what we’ve experienced for 30 years.”
Noah’s Ark was among the senator’s stops Tuesday, where he met with community leaders and members of the Arkansas River Outfitters Association (AROA).
In addition to preserving wildlife native to the area, “a national monument will put a gold star on the map,” Udall said earlier this year.
The hope among local business owners and rafting outfitters is that the designation will also attract more tourism to the area.
Saccone said people tend to see attractions like national monuments on the map and visit them based on the designation.
“We would see a positive impact,” Salazar, whose rafting company is one of the largest servicing Browns Canyon, said. “It will allow what we do to be more prominent.”
The proposed bill will have little effect on the area’s existing policies regarding commercial rafting, fishing, hunting and livestock grazing. And under the act the area will continue to be overseen by the combined efforts of the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.
Initially the bill met with some opposition from ranchers concerned with grazing areas and water supplies for cattle. Earlier this year, Udall made changes to the original draft of the bill to accommodate some of these needs. Changes were largely based on community feedback and a series of public meetings during the summer.
The bill has largely been well received by area business owners, organizations like the AROA and environmental advocacy groups like Conservation Colorado.
“The time is right for protecting Browns Canyon — a stunning natural area that is renowned for both its critical wildlife habitat and world-class river rafting and outdoor recreation opportunities. We applaud Sen. Udall for introducing the Browns Canyon National Monument and Wilderness Act,” Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado, said in a statement issued following Udall’s announcement.