An effort that spanned several decades was concluded with a commemoration ceremony for Browns Canyon July 18 to celebrate its national monument status.

The event was held at the Buena Vista High School gym after rain and wind relocated the ceremony from the BV River Park.

Browns Canyon was officially designated a national monument in February by President Obama.

Speakers included Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, among many other state, federal and local representatives.

“We did it,” Jewell proclaimed to the crowd of more than 700, summarizing the theme of many of the day’s speeches.

“I feel like the guy who kicked the field goal at the end of the game,” said Keith Baker, executive director for Friends of Browns Canyon. “There were so many people involved throughout the years. This wouldn’t be possible without any of them.”

Jewell, a former CEO of Recreational Equipment Inc., a retail company for sporting goods and outdoor recreation gear, said the economic impact that national monuments like Browns Canyon have on local economies cannot be underestimated.

“Just in Browns Canyon, as I understand, it’s up to a $60 million dollar business per year in the rafting industry alone,” Jewell said.

“When you think about the impact on the community that having a national monument has, there is no question that specially protected landscapes like this are very good for local economies.”

Buena Vista mayor and Roastery co-owner Joel Benson expressed similar sentiments.

“I’ve talked with many people at my own business and so many of them tell me they’ve come all the way to our community just to visit Browns Canyon.”

When asked to address dissenters who suggest that executive designations of national monuments are abuses of power, along with stifling economic growth in places like Browns Canyon

“This is a legitimate part of the economy,” Jewell said. “It’s a $526 billion dollar industry, with 6.1 million people employed in outdoor recreation. It is a very large part of the business community in this country and it needs to be heard.”

Both Hickenlooper and Bennet spoke about the divisiveness the declaration of national monuments creates politically, but that despite these differences citizens and government officials have to persevere to protects these places for generations to come.

“We have to make sure these wilderness areas are accessible for our children and their children,” Hickenlooper said.

“Keep doing what you’re doing because it’s working,” Bennet exclaimed during his speech. “It’s no surprise that D.C. is gridlocked when it comes to issues like this, but you see what’s possible when we come together to work with all of the stakeholders.”

Tom Tidwell, U.S. Forest Service chief, talked about what’s next for Browns Canyon.

“We have 3 years to develop a land management plan,” Tidwell said. “It’s important to take our time. We’ll have to work closely with the Bureau of Land Management and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to see this plan through to the end.”

Tidwell said the management plan would involve surveying the area to see what additional recreational facilities would be needed, along with Forest Service staff working closely with organizations like Friends of Browns Canyon to finish the plan in a timely manner.

Many of the speakers gave a special thanks to former U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and U.S. Rep Joel Hefly for their tireless efforts as supporters of both national monuments throughout the nation and of Browns Canyon. Neither were able to attend due to unforeseen personal scheduling conflicts.

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