The History of Browns Canyon National Monument: Part II

Friends of Browns Canyon, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit, officially formed in 2003, with volunteers spending hundreds upon hundreds of hours in the field mapping and getting to know the area. Later that year, the 5th Congressional District’s Republican Rep. Joel Hefley had 10 areas in the district and could pick one to push forward as a wilderness.

With a Republican congressman as an ally, the Friends of Browns Canyon thought their wilderness proposal for Browns Canyon was all but passed. But the legislative process in Washington would prove to be more complicated.

The bill was drafted, introduced to Congress in November 2005, and was passed favorably to the House Committee on Natural Resources. However, this is where the bill died because the NRA opposed the closure of the Turret Trail, which maintains access for hunters.

The Friends of Browns Canyon created a board of directors for the first time in 2012 and hired their first executive director. That year, Senator Udall proposed taking a different approach by pursuing a national monument for Browns Canyon. It would designate 22,000 acres for the national monument, 10,500 of which would be wilderness.

At the end of 2013, Udall introduced the Browns Canyon National Monument and Wilderness Act of 2013 in the Senate. In mid-2014, the U.S. Senate National Parks Subcommittee held a hearing on the bill. But the bill went no further in the Senate.

Along with Sen. Michael Bennet, who co-sponsored Udall’s bill, Udall urged President Barack Obama to consider using the Antiquities Act to designate Browns Canyon a national monument, sidestepping the congressional route that had failed for the last decade to bring the project full circle.

White House officials reported Feb. 18 that the president would use the Antiquities Act to declare Browns Canyon a National Monument. And sure enough, the next day


The History of Browns Canyon National Monument: Part I

Browns Canyon National Monument provides ample year-round recreation opportunities for sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts.

The most popular stretch of whitewater river in the country runs through Browns Canyon, where commercial rafting companies offer a variety of float trips. The monument also protects important habitat for bighorn sheep, elk, mule deer and many other wildlife species. The monument’s multi-use trail system accommodates hikers, horseback riders, and mountain bikers, while the Arkansas River in Browns Canyon is part of a 102-mile Gold Medal trout fishery.

While many of us in the Arkansas River Valley can’t imagine not having Browns Canyon National Monument outside our back door, it was a designation that was hard fought and almost didn’t happen at all.

In 1976, Congress instituted the Federal Land Management Policy Act (FLPMA), an act that directed the Bureau of Land Management to review its land for best management practices and gave the BLM direction to manage resources. FLPMA was the first initiative that said the area in the heart of Browns Canyon, which wasn’t a wilderness study area yet, had wilderness characteristics.

From the late 1970s into the 1980s, Browns Canyon was further inventoried for wilderness characteristics, and in 1980, the BLM reached the decision that 6,614 acres of Browns Canyon did qualify as a wilderness study area and purchased nearly 150 additional acres to add to the original recommendation after an intensive inventory of the area. Inventorying of Browns Canyon continued through the ’80s. A 1991 BLM Wilderness Study Report officially recommended the Browns Canyon WSA for wilderness designation.

Around this time, a handful of advocates began the hard work of turning Browns Canyon into a dedicated wilderness. These were non-paid volunteers who, for the first 10 years, operated on less than $1,000 a year. Their goal was to create a wilderness area east of the Arkansas River with the Browns Canyon Wilderness Study Area at its heart.

Continued in Part II…


A Brief History of Whitewater Rafting

Water has been an important source of transportation for centuries, dating back to native Americans who used canoes and rafts to navigate North America’s vast waterways.

Modern whitewater rafting as we know it dates back to 1842 when Lieutenant John Fremont began exploring Colorado's Platte River. During this time, he and inventor Horace H. Day created a rubber raft featuring four rubber cloth tubes and a wrap-around floor to help survey the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains areas.

Early river rafting continued in 1869 when Major John Wesley Powell led ten men in four wooden boats on a scientific rafting exploration of the Green and Colorado Rivers. Although their boats weren’t built for Colorado whitewater rafting, there were many times when the men had no choice but to hold on tight and ride the rapids.

In 1940, the first commercial whitewater rafting trip went down the Salmon River in the northwestern U.S.  At the end of World War II, surplus rafts became available and trips began to run down western rivers on a regular basis.

In the 1950’s, John D. Rockefeller Jr. constructed the Grand Teton National Park, which offered float trips down the Snake River.

However, it wasn’t until the 1960s that commercial whitewater rafting truly turned into a recreational activity for the masses. At first, outfitters used surplus military rafts to go whitewater rafting. Eventually, these were replaced by more modern inflatable rafts and rafting equipment.

In the 1970s, attention was brought to whitewater sports when kayak slalom was included in the Munich Olympic Games. Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, the equipment and tools used for whitewater rafting continued to evolve into what we use today.