Guest opinion: Preserving Thompson Divide exemplifies citizenship
Nearly 110 years ago, during a brief stop before embarking on a month-long hunting trip in Colorado’s Thompson Divide area, President Theodore Roosevelt addressed a small crowd of well-wishers in New Castle. In his remarks, the president declared that Colorado “is going to be one of the greatest states in the nation.”
Those of us lucky to live here would be hard-pressed to disagree with Roosevelt’s assessment of the Centennial State. Our peaks and valleys, rivers and streams — rugged expanses give way to scenic landscapes that attract visitors from near and far. But it was not Colorado’s natural beauty alone that caught President Roosevelt’s attention — though it surely couldn’t have hurt. Colorado’s potential for greatness, he said, was “not merely in its material development, but in its type of citizenship.”
Citizenship: the idea that our duty lies not only with ourselves, but also to each other, to our community and to generations that come after us. It’s with that idea in mind that folks from across Colorado’s Western Slope — from all walks of life — have come together to conserve and protect nearly 220,000 acres of pristine public lands that make up Colorado’s Thompson Divide.
With Houston-based oil and gas companies on the Thompson Divide’s doorstep, an unlikely patchwork of concerned citizens, local governments and statewide elected officials have coalesced around a common cause of keeping the Thompson Divide as it is. And for good reason. The Divide, as it is known locally, yields tremendous economic benefits to individuals and our community as a whole: nearly 300 jobs and $30 million in economic activity per year, according to independent analysts.
In other words, people rely on this land for their livelihoods, be it ranching, hunting, angling or recreation. Conserving the Thompson Divide isn’t only an environmental concern, it’s an economic one as well. And speaking of economics, as the daughter of a coal miner and a fifth-generation Western Slope native, I believe extractive industries are an important part of Colorado’s economy; but western Colorado is undoubtedly doing its part to provide our nation with natural gas.
The U.S. Forest Service recently issued a conservation-minded decision to protect the Thompson Divide from future mineral leasing. In doing so, the agency helped to establish an important balance that our communities have been seeking for decades. Their decision recognized the Divide’s “singularity as a special place” and the multiple uses on the land that already support our local economies.
Reaching back to President Roosevelt’s example, the community-based effort to conserve the Thompson Divide is also about what we are leaving behind: the idea that we have an obligation not just to provide for ourselves, but to balance our needs with the needs of future generations as well. If our community is successful in conserving the Thompson Divide, we will have done far more than preserve pristine public lands. We will have also passed on a legacy of citizenship that has served as a source of greatness for over a century.
In a time when our country’s politics seem so divided, the conservation of public lands in the Thompson Divide provides a refreshing example of how communities can come together, in unified fashion, to achieve what Roosevelt called “common sense solutions to common problems for the common good.”
Stacey Bernot is a fifth-generation Carbondale native with deep and direct ties to the Thompson Divide area. As Carbondale mayor, she has been a strong advocate for community-based efforts to conserve the area for existing uses.
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