Making Every Day Public Lands Day

State Representative Julie McCluskie represents House District 61, which includes five beautiful counties in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains and along the Western Slope

Five years ago, Colorado became the first state in the nation to establish a “Public Lands Day” holiday. On the third Saturday every May, we celebrate the magnificence of our pristine Rocky Mountain landscapes, including our wild and verdant green forests; tumbling raucous waterways forcing their way down the continental divide, and breathtaking sky-drenched vistas.

When a person pauses to take in the beauty of our public lands, it’s no wonder we were the first state to declare such a holiday. Let’s hope we aren’t the last.

The benefits of this holiday are clear to me. Our state’s tourism and outdoor recreation opportunities bring in more than $28 billion dollars to state and local economies while creating nearly 230,000 jobs in outdoor recreation. But this holiday isn’t just about economics. Colorado’s public lands connect us to our past and future, inspire our hearts and minds, and capture the essence of what it means to lead the “Colorado way of life.”

Exploring our public lands takes very little effort since there is access to a myriad of local, state and federal public lands throughout Colorado. On this beautiful summer day, I take the opportunity to travel one of my favorite trails in the White River National Forest just minutes from my front door. The Soda Creek Area Trail System near the Keystone Ranch neighborhood in Summit County offers a spider web of single track hiking and biking trails through meadows and forests to hidden gardens of pale purple columbine, wild irises and lupine in the summer, and elk and moose habitat in the late fall and winter. The main trail, Soda Creek #9014, leads to a moderate six mile hike through aging forests and wetlands, passing historical pioneer log buildings at the Soda Creek Homestead.

According to History Colorado, the Soda Creek Homestead was one of the earliest homesteads established in the late 1880s. The place served as a guest ranch up until 1960, then was established in the National Register in 2010 and is now the setting for modern day chuckwagon barbecues and sleigh rides. The old log buildings remind me of a Lincoln Log toy set — rich, dark rustic brown logs, balancing carefully one on top of the other. It’s not hard to imagine earlier Coloradans hard at work in this setting; part of early high country dairy, hay and cattle ranch operations.

While connecting to the region’s agricultural history is part of this hiking experience, so is seeing a glimpse of Colorado’s future. As climate change weighs heavily on the horizon, it is no surprise to see wide swaths of cleared timber just off the trail as part of an extensive wildfire mitigation project. In this open space, the sunlight now bathes hundreds of newly sprung Lodgepole pines, blue spruce, aspen and other plant life. I wonder as I pass these clearings if these open areas will protect the homes and neighborhoods below from the spreading tentacles of a wildland fire. After the catastrophic 2020 wildfire season, many of us living in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) acknowledge that wildfires will be a part of life in the hotter and drier Rocky Mountains. We can only hope these mitigation efforts to protect property and life will be enough.

While I take in a few deep breaths and stare at the shiny blue summer sky, my feet move me forward. I pass the halfway mark on the trail and begin my journey home through the wetlands along lazy sloping dirt trail curves on Swan Mountain.

As I make my way to the point where I began, I am particularly grateful for this easy access to such natural beauty and treasured relics from our past. Celebrating these public lands only one day a year in May simply isn’t enough. I’m working on making it a part of my daily routine. I hope you will, too.

Click here for a complete copy of Colorado Senate Joint Resolution 21–023, “Colorado Public Lands Day” sponsored by Sen. Kerry Donovan and Rep. Julie McCluskie.

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So many of our nation’s parks and public lands written about in these love notes, would not exist but for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). This important conservation program was permanently funded when Congress passed the Great American Outdoors Act last year. You can learn more about the Land and Water Conservation Fund here.

Would you like to write about public lands that you cherish? Please email Mary Jo Brooks at brooksm@nwf.org for guidelines. You’ll get this cool sticker as a thank you.

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National Wildlife Federation — Our Public Lands

National Wildlife Federation — Our Public Lands

The National Wildlife Federation public lands program advocates for our public lands and waters, wildlife and the right of every American to enjoy them.