Community Culture Rooted in Public Lands

Gunnison Country Times

Maddie Rehn, GPLI Coordinator

When I talk about the Gunnison Public Lands Initiative (GPLI), people ask me many questions. At the root of these questions is often simply "why"? Why is a diverse group of local stakeholders working so hard to protect public lands in Gunnison County?

As the coordinator for this coalition of public land stakeholder groups in the Gunnison Valley, I have talked to countless people about the topic. I have found that no matter their politics or priorities, or how people use public lands here in Gunnison County, there is an appreciation for these parcels that shapes who we are as a community. With more than 80 percent of Gunnison County consisting of public lands, the community culture is rooted in this shared landscape, as are the livelihoods of many of us.

The connections that come from being out on our public lands-whether grazing cattle, fishing the streams, hiking up a mountain, or riding a bike unite us. So too does a shared concern for their sustainability into the future, so that these lands will serve as our foremost community resource for generations to come. This is the foundation GPLI was built upon. GPLI coalesced around an ambitious premise: to work together to create a consensus proposal to present to Congress that would be representative of the community's vision for the future of local public lands.

In the beginning, this was tempered with a hefty dose of honest uncertainty. How could this diverse group begin to craft a consensus proposal for this resource if other people at the table might not prioritize your values, or even take actions that directly conflict with your values? What was found, however, is that a common passion for public lands is motivation enough to build something meaningful. Through countless hours of meetings and studying public lands in Gunnison County, this group has worked with great care to consider the various ways people enjoy the land and make a living from it.

Discussion of public lands among diverse stakeholders is not easy. It requires honesty and trust to say the things that you care the most about and know that they will be heard. And it requires openness to hear things that you have never considered before and treat them with the dignity and respect you would hope for your own viewpoints. Over the years, I have observed the GPLI progress f rom an ambitious idea to a consensus-based vision for public lands in Gunnison County. It has been an honor and an incredible gift to watch the budding connection between different groups.

This certainly has not resolved all of our differences or solved all of the problems experienced by various public lands users. From my perspective, this group has worked in good faith to articulate a shared vision for public lands in Gunnison County with the appropriate balance between wilderness, recreational, wildlife, ecological, economic and cultural values. Thank you to the GPLI coalition for your time, dedication and thoughtfulness. As this group moves their recommendations forward, there is still work to do and opportunities to shape legislation. I encourage the community to join the coalition for an Open House hosted by the Gunnison County Commissioners on Tuesday, June 25 from 6:30-8 p.m. in their meeting room at the Gunnison County Courthouse to discuss the GPLI proposal

(Maddie Rehn is project coordinator for the Gunnison Public Lands Initiative.)

Photo: Mason Cummings

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