Historic legislation passed in Colorado to finance outdoor recreation, conservation and backcountry saftey

Steven Bonifazi

Governor Jared Polis signs bills at Golden Gate Canyon State Park to celebrate more varied outdoor recreation activities for all Coloradans(Photo courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife)

By Steven Bonifazi

(DENVER, Colo.) Governor Jared Polis signed a multitude of bills on Monday in an effort to expand recreation access initiatives and increase conservation funds for natural resources in the Centennial State.

The bills that were signed include HB21-1326 General Fund Transfer Support Department Of Natural Resources Programs, SB21-249 Keep Colorado Wild Annual Pass and HB21-1318 Create Outdoor Equity Grant Program.

Swift population growth and an increase in demand for outdoor recreation are currently presenting challenges to Colorado Parks and Wildlife's (CPW) ability to commit funds to conservation programs that maintain the state's 42 state parks, 350 state wildlife areas, 45,000 miles of trails and 23 million acres of public land, according to a press release from CPW.

The new legislation will change how state parks are funded, provide support for backcountry search and rescue and allow CPW to build new park facilities, increase conservation programs and supply multiple varied outdoor recreation activities for all residents.

“Coloradans love and value our mountains, open spaces, rivers, and recreation areas. But increasing visitation is far outpacing the limited funds needed to provide the amenities and services we have come to expect in our state parks and other recreation areas across Colorado. Bluntly, we are loving our outdoors to death,” said Colorado Department of Natural Resources Executive Director Dan Gibbs. "The new visionary legislation passed this session will provide new tools to protect our wildlife, secure our existing outdoor recreation areas and increase access to the outdoors for more Coloradans for generations to come.” 

Bill SB21-249, Keep Colorado wild Annual Pass will direct CPW to develop an optional, low-cost “Keep Colorado Wild Annual Pass” in order to heighten Coloradans' access to state parks and public lands. Beginning in 2023, the new pass will be added when Coloradans register their vehicles, light trucks, motorcycles and recreational vehicles.

The funding that comes from this new pass will aid in ensuring the CPW can improve needed infrastructure as well as services to keep up with visitation increases and implement new visitation-management systems at existing state parks. The new pass will additionally allow all Coloradans to aid in protecting state lands, wildlife and help boost the agency's equity, diversity and inclusion in the outreach and programs.

HB21-1326, General Fund Transfer to Support Department of Natural Resources Programs will transfer $25 million from the general fund in the 2020-21 state fiscal year in the following ways:

  • $750,000 to the Colorado avalanche information center fund to be utilized by the Colorado avalanche information center in the department of natural resources (department) for support towards backcountry avalanche safety programs;
  • $3.5 million to the wildlife cash fund for use by CPW in regards to implementing its statewide wildlife action plan and the conservation of native species;
  • $2.25 million to the search and rescue fund for use by the department of local affairs in consultation with the division to support backcountry search and rescue efforts;
  • $1 million to the outdoor equity fund for use by the division to implement the outdoor equity grant program; and
  • $17.5 million to the parks and outdoor recreation cash fund for use by the division as follows: $3.5 million for staffing and maintenance projects; and $14 million for infrastructure and state park development projects.
(Photo courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife)

Bill HB21-1318, Create Outdoor Equity Grant Program, establishes the Outdoor Equity in CPW to increase access and opportunity for underserved youth and their families so that they may experience the state's open spaces, state parks and outdoor areas. The Outdoor Equity board will be made up of people who have experience in justice, equity, diversity and inclusion in regards to providing outdoor, environmental and recreational educational programs.

The grants that the board awards will help fund projects and organizations that provide equitable access opportunities for youth from a diversity of backgrounds to have outdoor experiences statewide.

“This new funding opportunity will help our agency strengthen and maintain our growing state park system, as well as dedicate more funding to our growing wildlife conservation work and programs,” said Colorado Parks and Wildlife Director Dan Prenzlow. “As our population continues to grow and our expectations expand, we are grateful that Colorado residents continuously want to serve as stewards for our lands and wildlife and want to find new ways to balance their outdoor recreation with mindful conservation. This new pass will allow our community to work together in a forward-thinking way that helps secure our outdoor heritage and wildlife legacy in Colorado.”

For more information regarding CPW's conservation principles and priorities, click here.

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