Browns Canyon — already one of Colorado’s most popular whitewater rafting and fishing destinations — is expected take a step closer to achieving national monument status this week. Sen. Mark Udall will present the bill in a U.S. Senate National Parks Subcommittee hearing set for 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 23. If approved the bill will move on to the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee before being submitted for approval in front of the full Senate and House of Representatives.
“We’re making good progress on the bill,” Udall spokesman Mike Saccone told the Daily Tuesday. “Sen. Udall’s goal is to get it through Congress this session.”
Close to two years in the making, the Browns Canyon National Monument and Wilderness Act was introduced in Congress in December 2013. The bill would preserve 22,000 acres surrounding the Browns Canyon stretch of the Arkansas River — between Buena Vista and Salida — and include 10,500 acres designated as a new wilderness area.
The proposal has been well received by a number of conservation groups as well as Chaffee County area fishing and whitewater outfitters.
“We’re excited about it,” Arkansas River Outfitters Association president Mike Kissak said. “Browns Canyon is a very special place and we’re excited to protect it.”
In addition to preserving the land, area residents like Kissak — who owns American Adventure Expeditions rafting company — said the bill should also help the local economy, which relies primarily on tourism.
“It’s a very positive thing for my business, for rafting and the community as a whole,” Kissak said. “Protecting a place like that is important to everyone in the valley.”
Udall spent time in 2013 meeting with various community groups and holding public comment sessions to receive input on his initial draft of the bill. He and others have said that the proposition would “put a gold star on the map,” potentially leading to an increase in out-of-state and international tourism.
According to the Bureau of Land Management, Browns Canyon annually receives about 94,000 to 155,000 visitors from commercial rafting trips alone. Those figures do not include private boaters, fisherman or other guests.
Kissak said there is room for growth under current permit allotments, which are expected to stay in place if the bill is approved.
In addition to being a popular whitewater destination, Browns Canyon also was recently awarded gold medal status for trout fishing by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
A poll released Tuesday by Conservation Colorado revealed that 77 percent of the state’s residents surveyed approved of the monument designation proposition.
Wednesday’s subcommittee hearing will be streamed online at www.energy.senate.gov and will include several other public lands bills. If the act is approved by Congress, Browns Canyon will join popular travel destinations like Muir Woods, Fort Sumter, the Statue of Liberty, Devils Tower, Mount St. Helens and a number of other sites as a national monument.