Photo courtesy RaftTheBest.com

President Obama designated Browns Canyon, a whitewater run near Salida, Colo., as a new national monument on Thursday. The move will add new federal protections to over 21,000 acres of public land surrounding the canyon, which, according to American Whitewater, is the most popular whitewater rafting destination in the country.

The Colorado River Outfitters Association (CROA) has calculated that guided rafting on the Arkansas River brings in roughly $60 million to the economy each year.

Bill Dvorak, who has run commercial rafting trips through the 12-mile, Class III Browns Canyon stretch since 1985, sees this as a major victory for local paddlers and businesses.

“I’ve been working on this for over 20 years, and I’m so damn thankful it’s happening,” he told The Denver Post. “It will do a good thing for the economy. It puts a star on the Rand McNally maps.”

“Browns Canyon is a stunning and rugged stretch of the Arkansas River which supports a multi-million dollar local outdoor industry,” Dvorak said in a Friends of Browns Canyon statement. “The monument designation guarantees that the backcountry, fishing, wildlife and economic benefits that Browns Canyon provides will be around for a long time to come.”

Advocacy groups American Whitewater and the Friends of Browns Canyon have been working for years to secure federal protection in the canyon.

“We thank President Obama for acting today, and honoring the decades of work so many of Coloradoans have invested to protect Browns Canyon,” said Nathan Fey, Regional Director at American Whitewater.

Last year, congress failed to pass legislation introduced by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) and former Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colorado) that would have protected the canyon. “Coloradans have been very clear they wanted this protection, along with assurances that existing uses will be protected,” Bennet said in a statement, referring to provisions that will honor existing grazing and water rights. “We’re glad the administration heard those voices and provided those assurances.”

A recent poll by Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Project, 96 percent of Coloradans support the protection and conservation of natural areas.

President Obama used his authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which allows the president to designate national monuments. The act has been used to protect other paddling destinations in the past, such as Dinosaur National Monument and the Grand Canyon.

The Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service will jointly manage Browns Canyon National Monument, while paddling will continue to be managed by the Colorado State Parks.

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