We are excited to be supporting Senator Bennet and Representative Polis for their commitment towards protecting the nearly 100,000 acre landscape in Eagle and Summit Counties as part of the Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness, and Camp Hale Legacy Act. We encourage Senator Gartner to also support this project. We believe committing to this project is simply good business for Colorado.
We really know Senator Bennet is committed to the preservation of Camp Hale. At the Outdoor Retailer show this past January, we had the unique privilege to forgo our right of the first offer on the 10th Mountain Division sign created by Sarah Uhl at the Outdoor Research live art project benefiting Conservation Colorado. We had planned on donating this sign to the 1oth mountain for their use and benefit. However, based our exchange with Senator Bennet, this sign now sits proudly in his office as a reminder of his commitment to this project. We believe we made the right call! (Our full exchange with Senator Bennet is posted on YouTube here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ft6-dz6_27A)
See the land at Camp Hale isn’t only about saving a piece of land, it also represents honoring the soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division and an important pivot point in Colorado’s economy, especially in the mountain towns of our state. By the time the troops arrived to train at Camp Hale, Aspen, Breckenridge, and Telluride were economically depressed after the mining industry had become less productive. As a result, these towns were left on the brink of ghost town status. By the 1940 census reading, Breckenridge had lost over 75% of its residents from its highest point of 1657 in 1880. Similarly, Aspen shrunk from its 1890 census of 5108 to only 777, a decrease of over 85%.
During their training, these soldiers soon developed a love for the mountains in around Camp Hale, and they were compelled to spread the joy these majestic mountains brought to them despite the hardships endured at the camp. After the war, many of them would return to these training grounds, and these individuals started establishing or working in senior roles at the ski areas in the nearby area. From these positions, they would shape an industry that today supports over 43,000 jobs and $2.56 billion in total economic value added in 2016. Our mountain communities are thriving, and populations have far exceeded their previous historical peak, and the wealth generated has topped all expectations from the mining days gone by. While the owners and operators of ski areas have consolidated over the years to the likes of Alterrra, Aspen Corp, Mountain Capital Partners, and Vail, the significant portion of the support industry like restaurants, construction, and retail continues to be owned by the small business and local community members.
With such great economic growth and the corresponding influx of population to these areas, there has been equal pressure to develop lands that have been left public since the decline of mining. Recent studies show that the West is losing a football field worth of natural areas every 2.5 minutes; in Colorado, we lost over 250,000 football fields of natural areas (525 sq. miles) from 2001 to 2011. Unfortunately, these losses are not resulting in affordable housing for the service industry, but rather being sold to the highest bidders for development of luxury estates that will sit empty the vast majority of the year.
Such is the case at the ultra-exclusive Cimarron Mountain Club where over 2000 acre development and ski area leverages its proximity to 1000 acres of adjacent and “undevelopable” public lands to make up half of the skiable acres. The real estate development group goes on to tout how “CMC is home to some of the most inspired wilderness experiences in the Country.” Based on the services described, there will indeed be a workforce established to support this exclusive destination, but this will be very limited. Does this type of exclusive land use produce the maximum value of the land? We think not.
By contrast, keeping lands public enables significant tourism and the business development to support it. Statistics show that millions of people come to the Continental Divide landscape every year to hike, camp, ski, kayak, raft, hunt, fish, backpack, mountain bike, horseback ride, snowmobile, and participate in other outdoor recreation opportunities. Many of these visitors come with needs for goods and services that are satisfied in location by knowledgeable small businesses like ourselves. By establishing this land as wilderness and Camp Hale as the first National Historic Landscape, we maintain the land AS IS for all to enjoy with equal access forever.
If you agree that accessible public lands are the best use for public lands, please call Senator Gartner and your Representative to encourage support for the Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness, and Camp Hale Legacy Act. And while you are at it, please call Senator Bennet and Representative Polis and thank them for their commitment to this important project!