JEN CLANAHAN: Great American Outdoors Act is a gift to Coloradans, especially to our children


It seems like good news is hard to come by these days, but last week we had great news!

On July 22, the House overwhelmingly passed full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) as part of the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA). That was preceded in June by a bipartisan yes vote in the Senate, and now this historic legislation is on to the President’s desk for his promised signature.

While LWCF has been an important and successful tool for public lands protection and access for over 50 years, it has remained somewhat unknown to many. I would venture to say that most Coloradans who access a favorite outdoor place will have no idea how much their experience may have benefited from LWCF. The program has helped to fund a wide range of our local parks, playgrounds, bike paths, ballfields, and state parks, as well as our iconic national parks like Rocky Mountain and Great Sand Dunes.

In Arapahoe County, the Plains Conservation Center and the Sand Creek Greenway have received LWCF funding for needed development and maintenance. But, perhaps the centerpiece for Aurora public outdoor spaces is the 4,000 acre Cherry Creek State Park, which has a long history of being supported by LWCF grants, benefitting by nearly $1.5 million over five decades for everything from trail maintenance to road and parking improvements to reservoir development. More than half a million dollars helped to develop the enormously popular off-leash dog park.

Cherry Creek State Park is a spectacular natural attraction, with an 880-acre lake for boating, sailing, fishing, and swimming on the sandy beach areas. Elsewhere are wetland and prairie, featuring an extensive trail network. LWCF funds have been essential to making this a park visited by two million annual visitors who come to enjoy an incredibly beautiful outdoor setting with everything to offer.

It’s places like these that help to make our Colorado outdoor quality of life possible. They are also outdoor play spots that have been critical to moms during these difficult times. Moms have been dependent on nearby outdoor recreational opportunities to keep our kids occupied and healthy and to keep everyone in the family sane. You can tell how important our parks and trails are for that feeling of freedom by the many recreationists out there this spring and right into the summer.

So many parents are raising their kids in Colorado for the outdoor quality of life that it makes perfect sense for our elected officials to support LWCF. One of the Representatives that worked especially hard to get the GAOA legislation over the finish line is District 6’s own Congressman Jason Crow. For his major role, Rep. Crow was invited to the bill enrollment signing in DC. With Crow’s commitment to the stewardship of the public lands where we live, work and play, I’m betting it’s not coincidental that his district office is located just across the street from Cherry Creek State Park.

LWCF will continue to be critical for our health and the preservation of our outdoor lifestyles as we emerge from the current crisis, and long after. Right now we can build each day for a better tomorrow in a sustainable way that benefits all of our lives and well-being, bolsters Colorado’s outdoor economy, and invests in America’s future, our children. Forthcoming generations will look back to the day the Great American Outdoors Act was enacted in the midst of a global pandemic, and they will marvel at and appreciate our foresight.

Jen Clanahan is the Colorado State Director of Mountain Mamas, an organization that raises the volume of Western women’s voices to protect our outdoor quality of life, for our kids and our future