Congress members voice optimism in passing CORE Act

Colorado Congressman Joe Neguse, left, and Colorado Senator Michael Bennet hike to the Coon Hill trailhead from the west side of the Eisenhower/Johnson Memorial Tunnels outisde Dillon on Friday, Sept. 4, 2020, to discuss the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act.
Photo by Liz Copan / Studio Copan

Local, state and federal officials gathered near the Eisenhower/Johnson Memorial Tunnels Friday afternoon to discuss progress made in pushing the Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy (CORE) Act though congress, and to assure Coloradans they are still dedicated to seeing it finally cross the finish line.

Officials addressed the small crowd of stakeholders just off a trail near Coon Hill north of the tunnels, stepping into one of the nearly 100,000 acres the bill would designate as protected wilderness, recreation and conservation areas in the state.

Sen. Michael Bennet and Reps. Joe Neguse and Jason Crow all spoke at the event. They were joined by commissioners from Summit and Pitkin counties, veterans of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division, The Wilderness Society, the Eagle Summit Wilderness Alliance and more.

Everyone in attendance seemed to share the same sentiment — after a decade-long struggle to pass the legislation, they’re finally close to getting the job done. 

“As we go into the conference we’re very excited,” Neguse said. “Because we’re this close to making the CORE Act a reality. … Everyone here certainly has my commitment, and I know Senator Bennet’s commitment, that we are going to get this done.”

The CORE Act seeks to protect about 400,000 acres of public lands for future generations, including about 73,000 acres of new wilderness areas, and almost 80,000 acres in new recreation and wildlife conservation areas.

The measure calls for 21,000 acres in new wilderness areas in the Tenmile Range, Hoosier Ridge and Williams Fork Mountains, along with adding more than 20,000 acres to existing wilderness areas at the Eagles Nest, Ptarmigan Peak, and Holy Cross Wilderness areas. Another 61,000 acres of land in the San Juan Mountains would also be designated as protected wilderness.

The measure would also formally establish a boundary for the Curecanti National Recreation Area, and would designate Camp Hale as the county’s first National Historic Landscape, hoping to preserve the legacy of the 10th Mountain Division that trained at the site during World War II, and the ski industry that emerged afterward.

Local veterans were on site to share why the site should be preserved.

 “Being part of the 10th Mountain is a defining piece of my life,” said Mike Greenwood. “I want to carry that forward. … I also want to show the spirit and the fortitude and the courage that these guys had when they came home and said ‘this is our country. This is our land. We’re going to use it the way we intend to use it, the way it should be used setting up ski industries.’ … I don’t understand how you can’t want to save it.”

The act, sponsored by Neguse and Crow among others, passed through the House for the second time in October last year.

With the House of Representatives already passing the measure, Bennet said its now up to him and his colleagues in the Senate to deliver.

“The biggest issue is that there are people in the Senate that still don’t believe in public lands,” Bennet said. “And who don’t want to recognize or acknowledge the consensus that’s been forged in Colorado around this piece of legislation. That’s a pitfall. But I do think if we don’t get it done at the end of the year this year, I feel very good that we’ll be able to get it done in the first part of next year. The reason for that is the support here is so broad based all across the Western Slope.”

Bennet said that he felt the CORE Act was starting to gain traction as people around the Colorado and country look on at extreme wildfire conditions throughout the state.

“I think people understand these are really important headwaters to the whole country, and I think more and more when they see these fire and drought conditions I hope what people begin to understand is the fragile nature of these landscapes, and the importance to protect them,” Bennet said. “…I tell people all the time that if you’re downstream from Colorado you need to care about things like the CORE Act. I think we’ll be able to get the support for it.”

If the bill can’t make it through the Senate, officials have been working on other ways to bring it into law. In July, the House of Representatives passed the CORE Act as an amendment to the House version of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, which will soon hit the desk of the Armed Services Committee.

“We’re going to go to conference in the next couple weeks,” said Crow, a member of the committee. “…My promise over the next couple weeks is to fight hard in conference to make sure we can get this over the finish line.”

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