Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and U.S. Congressman Joe Neguse's Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy (CORE) Act protects approximately 400,000 acres of public land in Colorado, establishing new wilderness areas and safeguarding existing outdoor recreation opportunities to boost the economy for future generations. 

Colorado counties, in close coordination with businesses, recreation groups, sportsmen, and conservationists, helped write each element of the CORE Act over the last decade.

Of the land protected, about 73,000 acres are new wilderness areas, and nearly 80,000 acres are new recreation and conservation management areas that preserve existing outdoor uses, such as hiking and mountain biking. The bill also includes a first-of-its-kind National Historic Landscape to honor Colorado’s military legacy and prohibits new oil and gas development in areas important to ranchers and sportsmen.

The CORE Act unites and improves four previously introduced bills: the Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness, and Camp Hale Legacy Act, the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act, the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act, and the Curecanti National Recreation Area Boundary Establishment Act.

Four CORE Act Elements

  • Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness, and Camp Hale Legacy Act

    The Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness, and Camp Hale Legacy Act establishes permanent protections for nearly 100,000 acres of wilderness, recreation, and conservation areas in the White River National Forest along Colorado’s Continental Divide. It also designates the first-ever National Historic Landscape around Camp Hale to preserve and promote the 10th Mountain Division’s storied legacy. In crafting the bill, Senator Bennet and then-Congressman Jared Polis collaborated with community leaders, veterans, and businesses in Eagle, Summit, and Grand Counties.

    • Wilderness Areas: The bill creates three new wilderness areas in the Tenmile Range, Hoosier Ridge, and Williams Fork Mountains, totaling 21,033 acres. It also adds 20,196 acres to three existing wilderness areas by expanding Eagles Nest, Ptarmigan Peak, and Holy Cross wilderness areas. Input and support from community leaders in Eagle and Summit Counties led to these designations.

     

    • Camp Hale National Historic Landscape: The bill designates 28,728 acres surrounding Camp Hale as the first-ever National Historic Landscape. This unprecedented designation speaks to the storied legacy of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division in Colorado and around the world. The 10th Mountain Division that trained at Camp Hale led our nation to victory in World War II, then went on to create the outdoor industry as we know it today. The National Historic Landscape designation would ensure Camp Hale’s historic preservation, secure existing recreational opportunities, and protect natural resources.

     

    • Wildlife: The bill creates two new wildlife conservation areas totaling 11,668 acres. The Porcupine Gulch Wildlife Conservation Area would protect Colorado’s only migration corridor over Interstate 70 for elk, bear, mule deer, and other wildlife. The Williams Fork Wildlife Conservation Area would enhance wildlife habitat for the Greater Sage-grouse and other species.

     

    • Recreation: The bill creates a recreation management area in the Tenmile Range totaling 16,966 acres. This would protect access to world-class outdoor recreation, such as mountain biking, hiking, and hunting.

     

    • Other Land Management: The bill addresses a number of management issues in specific areas along the Continental Divide. It adjusts wilderness boundaries around the Trail River Ranch in Rocky Mountain National Park to ensure ongoing access to the property for youth and community education programs. It authorizes special use of the Bolts Ditch headgate in the Holy Cross Wilderness Area to ensure the town of Minturn, Colorado, can use its existing water rights to fill Bolts Lake. Lastly, it allows the Forest Service to acquire “the Wedge”—several parcels of land in Grand County—to protect wildlife habitat and the landscape near Rocky Mountain National Park.
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  • San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act

    The San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act provides permanent protections for nearly 61,000 acres of land located in the heart of the San Juan Mountains in Southwest Colorado. It designates some of the state’s most iconic peaks as wilderness, including two fourteeners: Mount Sneffels and Wilson Peak. The bill is the result of more than 10 years of collaboration among local leaders, businesses, and ranchers in San Miguel, San Juan, and Ouray Counties. It has passed out of both Senate and House committees with bipartisan support. 

    • Wilderness: The bill designates 31,725 acres of new wilderness areas near Telluride, Norwood, Ouray, and Ridgway. Approximately 23,000 acres are additions to the existing Lizard Head and Mount Sneffels Wilderness Areas. The bill also designates 8,884 acres surrounding McKenna Peak, an existing Wilderness Study Area, as a new wilderness area in San Miguel County.

     

    • Special Management: The bill designates 21,663 acres as the Sheep Mountain Special Management Area between the towns of Ophir and Silverton, which includes Hope Lake and Ice Lakes Basin. The bill also creates the 792-acre Liberty Bell East Special Management Area near Telluride.

     

    • Mineral Withdrawal: The bill protects 6,590 areas of mineral withdrawal outside of Norwood at Naturita Canyon, prohibiting future mineral development in the canyon.
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  • Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act

    The Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act protects the Thompson Divide—one of Colorado’s most treasured landscapes—by withdrawing approximately 200,000 acres from future oil and gas development, while preserving existing private property rights for leaseholders and landowners. It also creates a program to lease excess methane from nearby coal mines, supporting the local economy and addressing climate change. Since joining the Senate, Senator Bennet has worked with ranchers, sportsmen, and elected officials to ensure the bill reflects the wishes of Gunnison, Pitkin, and Garfield Counties and local energy companies.

    • Mineral Withdrawal: The bill permanently withdraws around 200,000 acres in the Thompson Divide near Carbondale and Glenwood Springs from future oil and gas development, while preserving existing private property rights for leaseholders and landowners. It also provides the option for leaseholders to exchange existing Thompson Divide leases for credits that could be used to bid on new leases elsewhere. 

     

    • Methane Leasing: Based on a request from Gunnison County, Delta County, and natural gas producers, the bill creates a program to lease and generate energy from excess methane in existing or abandoned coal mines in the North Fork Valley—supporting the local economy and addressing climate change.
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  • Curecanti National Recreation Area (NRA) Boundary Establishment Act

    The Curecanti National Recreation Area (NRA) Boundary Establishment Act formally establishes the boundary for the Curecanti NRA. Although created in 1965, the boundary has never been designated by Congress, limiting the ability of the National Park Service to effectively manage the area. The bill improves coordination among land management agencies and ensures the Bureau of Reclamation upholds its commitment to expand public fishing access in the basin. Since 2011, Senator Bennet has worked closely with counties, federal agencies, landowners, and sportsmen to craft the bill.

    • Boundary Establishment: The bill formally establishes the boundary of the Curecanti National Recreation Area, currently one of only a handful of NPS units without a formal designation by Congress.

     

    • Land Management: The bill improves the efficiency of public land management in the area by initiating a series of administrative jurisdiction changes—a step supported by all of the relevant land management agencies that will save taxpayer dollars. It also ensures Bureau of Reclamation jurisdiction over the three dams in the area that play an important role in the Colorado River. Lastly, the bill allows nearby landowners to voluntarily receive assistance from the NPS to conserve natural resources on their property.

     

    • Fishing Access: The bill ensures that the Bureau of Reclamation upholds its commitment to expand public fishing access in the basin, which was lost when the Aspinall Unit was created.
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Frequently Asked Questions about the CORE Act

  • Does the CORE Act ban all motorized use on 400,000 acres in Colorado? Is it a 400,000 acre wilderness bill?

    No. Of the roughly 400,000 acres in the CORE Act, over half of it is a federal mineral withdrawal, which has no effect or limitation on any uses in the area except for the prohibition of future oil and gas leasing. Less than a quarter of the acreage, around 73,000 acres, is wilderness, and much of that is the expansion of existing wilderness areas.

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  • Does the CORE Act close roads or trails that are currently open to motorized use?

    The CORE Act does not close any existing roads, jeep trails, off highway vehicle trails or motorcycle trails. Claims that the CORE Act will close roads on Ophir Pass, Imogene Pass or the roads to Yankee Boy Basin and Holy Cross City are inaccurate. In developing the legislation, we coordinated closely with motorized users to remove from the proposal all motorized trails that a new designation could affect. Motorized trails that are unaffected include some of the state’s finest snowmobile trails on Kebler Pass and the Sunlight to Powderhorn (SP) Trail.

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  • Will any groomed snowmobile trail networks be closed to usage?

    The CORE Act does not close any groomed snowmobile trails. There are groomed trails within the Thompson Divide portion of the CORE Act, but the designations for the Thompson Divide do not affect snowmobiling or other motorized uses. Summer and winter motorized users have been part of the diverse coalition that supports the Thompson Divide legislation.

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  • Will the trail buffers (i.e., the distance between the new proposed wilderness boundaries and existing trails and roads) be adequate to maintain existing trails outside of the wilderness areas?

    The proposed boundaries of the wilderness and special management areas in the bill were crafted to protect the existing motorized and mechanized road and trail uses, with the trails being located outside of any proposed area that could restrict its use. The CORE Act uses the wilderness buffer distance recommendations from the US Forest Service, which have been used for wilderness bills in Colorado since 1993.  This allows for a full range of uses on the trails near the wilderness areas, including motorized use. These buffers will accommodate maintenance on the trails to ensure they can stay open and maintained. The Forest Service is not aware of any lost motorized access from the use of these buffer distances in Colorado. Similarly, we have not received information that suggests motorized use has been lost as a result of these recommended buffer distances.

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  • Will the CORE Act limit motorized use at the proposed Camp Hale National Historic Landscape?

    The CORE Act does not prohibit or in any way limit motorized use at Camp Hale. Instead, the bill specifically directs the Forest Service to manage the area for road and trail-based recreation, including snowmobiling, as part of the future management of the area. The Forest Service would continue to have the discretion to decide what roads and trails are open to motorized and non-motorized use.

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  • How were the areas proposed for designation under the bill chosen? Did you consult with the motorized community?

    The areas in this legislation were all developed after we received formal written requests from the county commissions in the areas requesting legislation. All of the relevant stakeholders were consulted in the development of the legislation and, over the course of many years, thousands of acres of potential designations were removed from consideration at the request of the motorized community.

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  • Aren’t the areas being designated in this bill places that Congress previously removed for consideration as wilderness?

    No. Congress has not removed any acreage in this bill from consideration for wilderness. While some have inaccurately pointed to the 1980 Colorado Wilderness bill as precluding future wilderness designations, Colorado Senator Will Armstrong (R) noted at the time that the roadless review language used in section 107 of that bill does not mean the opportunity for wilderness designation would be foreclosed in the future. This sentiment was enshrined on page 23 of the Committee Report for the 1980 Colorado Wilderness Bill, which stated: “The decision to not designate these areas as wilderness is made on the basis of the circumstances and information presented to the Committee and is not irreversible. The Committee expects that the Forest Service under established laws, regulations, and policies, will continue to examine the full range of management options in the preparation and revision of management plans for these areas. If the Forest Service determines in the future that circumstances warrant the designation of these areas as wilderness, new recommendations may be made to Congress” and “[t]he language of section 5 does not prescribe any particular type of management for the lands involved…”  Congress has designated a number of new wilderness areas in Colorado since 1980.

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  • Does this bill prohibit grazing in the newly designated areas?

    The CORE Act does not prohibit continued grazing in the areas proposed for wilderness, special management designation or mineral withdrawal. Consistent with earlier wilderness designations in Colorado and elsewhere, the CORE Act provides for the continued grazing of livestock in wilderness areas in accordance with the Wilderness Act and Congressional Grazing Guidelines. Grazing can also continue in all of the other special management designations proposed in the bill. The Thompson Divide provisions were requested in part by local ranchers and grazers and will protect the quality of existing grazing and agricultural uses in the region.

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  • Does this bill limit the Forest Service’s ability to manage our forests or fight wildfires?

    The bill explicitly allows the Forest Service to carry out activities that it determines to be necessary to control the spread of insect and disease outbreaks in the proposed Wilderness Areas, as provided under the Wilderness Act. It also allows the Forest Service to carry out any activity it determines to be necessary, including the use of aircraft to fight wildfires in proposed Wilderness areas. Similar language has been included in earlier wilderness bills in Colorado that have passed into law, such as the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act in 2014. The special management areas have even broader forest and wildfire management provisions.

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  • Are water rights protected in this legislation?

    Yes, the bill protects existing water rights. The bill includes “headwaters language” to protect any water rights, water resources, or facilities that exist in areas designated as wilderness by the bill. The headwaters language was first used in the 1993 Colorado Wilderness Act. At the request of water community leaders, Congress has included the headwaters language in every Colorado wilderness designation bill passed since 1993, including the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act in 2014. Similarly, the special management areas would protect water rights.  In whole, the bill will significantly enhance key watersheds and the quality water they provide to water users locally and across the state.  The bill was developed in close consultation with and enjoys strong support from an array of water users and providers.

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