Friends of Browns Canyon History
How did we get started?
Approximately 10 years ago, local citizens in the Salida, CO area began working with their Republican and Democratic lawmakers to protect a region on the Arkansas River called Brown’s Canyon. A magnificent stretch of public land, Browns Canyon has been long revered for its wildlife, whitewater, hunting and backcountry solitude.
As Browns Canyon grew in popularity among both regional residents and visitors, the area began to be degraded by illegally forged motorized routes that cause erosion and habitat fragmentation. The very qualities that so many people love about Browns Canyon—world-class elk and bighorn sheep habitat, unrivaled whitewater rafting, and a backcountry experience found only in the country’s last remaining wilderness areas—were threatened.
Recognized as a BLM Wilderness Study Area and National Forest Roadless Area—but not afforded permanent protection by Congress as Wilderness—organizers worked with their members of Congress to write wilderness proposals and introduce legislation for Browns Canyon that would assure that no new road construction would damage the watershed or wildlife habitat.
Congressman Joel Hefley (R) introduced Browns Canyon Wilderness legislation, and every single member of the Colorado delegation signed on to co-sponsor. This included Tom Tancredo, Marilyn Musgrave, Wayne Allard, Ken Salazar, Mark Udall, John Salazar, and Bob Beauprez.
Congressman Wayne Allard (R) said, “This area includes some of the most picturesque vistas in Colorado, and this bill would preserve its natural beauty. It is a stunning landscape, with granite canyons stretching along the Arkansas River and merging into mixed forests and meadows.”
“In addition, the legislation would improve recreational opportunities within the area, which is one of the most popular rafting spots in Colorado.”
Browns Canyon legislation enjoyed bi-partisan support for a number of reasons, but among them was the balance struck between areas open to motor vehicles and areas where vehicles would not be allowed—the proposed Wilderness. Just to the north of the Wilderness proposal is the Four Mile Travel Management Area, which provides over 180 miles of routes for all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles. And within 100 miles of Salida, there are 5,000 miles of legal, open motorized trails.
It takes a long time to move bills through Congress, and this legislation did not come to vote. Organizers continued the work of keeping Browns Canyon in the public eye and garnering new support, especially from members of the business community. Numerous business owners, then and now, support the wilderness proposals because they recognize that the goals of preserving the region’s wild character, outstanding scenery and unparalleled rafting recreational opportunities align with their business goals.
As Congressman Allard said, “Not only will this bill protect one of Colorado’s great natural treasures, it will bring more tourists to the surrounding area and help the economies of Chaffee and Fremont counties.”
Since then, more than 130 businesses have publicly stated their support for protecting Browns Canyon. Friends of Browns Canyon have continued public outreach, education efforts and have demonstrated a willingness to compromise in order to protect this beautiful area for everyone.
The Browns Canyon Wilderness was originally proposed as 35,000 acres, but it has been scaled back to just over 20,000 acres. The smaller area will be easier to manage and define, with boundaries that generally run alongside existing roads and trails, the Arkansas River, railroad tracks and other readily recognized features.
Wilderness areas help produce clean water by protecting watersheds; provide critical habitat for threatened or endangered species; maintain biological diversity; offer outdoor recreation opportunities; provide scenic beauty; and serve as a spiritual or psychological haven from modern day pressures.
In addition, Browns Canyon “boasts some of Colorado’s most pristine forests, great hunting and fishing habitat, and draws outdoor enthusiasts from across Colorado and the country during nearly every season,” said then-Senator Ken Salazar.
Wilderness areas are protected from development such as logging roads, dams, or other permanent structures; from timber cutting and the operation of motorized/mechanized vehicles and equipment; and, since 1984, from new mining claims and mineral leasing.
Mining operations and livestock grazing are permitted to continue in Wilderness Areas if these practices existed prior to an Area’s designation.
Where are we today?
The effort to protect Browns Canyon as Wilderness or as a National Monument gained momentum in March, 2012 when Senator Udall announced a “collaborative, community-driven process to listen to the community and create legislation…”
“My goal is to build on work that has been done previously by other members of the Colorado delegation and develop a plan that a majority of the community agrees will support their interests and their local economies,” he said.
Senator Udall’s leadership position on the Environment and Natural Resources Committee will help take this proposal to the next level and, as the Senator said, help Colorado “be proactive so that future generations can experience the beauty, clean water and air, and wildlife that we have today.
Permanently protecting Browns Canyon of the Arkansas River will:
- Preserve opportunities for solitude and primitive recreation, including rafting, kayaking, hunting, horseback riding, fishing, climbing and hiking.
- Allow existing access roads and trails on all sides of the proposal to continue to provide recreational access while preserving the core of Browns Canyon area in its current state.
- Assure that no new roads construction will damage the area’s watershed or wildlife.
- Make Browns Canyon a part of the BLM’s National Conservation Lands – the nation’s newest, permanently protected collection of public lands. These are nationally significant landscapes throughout the West set aside for current and future generations because of their outstanding cultural, ecological and scientific importance.
- Friends of Browns Canyon invite you to join our efforts by visiting this great place, learning more about its irreplaceable natural values, and helping to protect it.