Some people were surprised by the pro-conservation findings of a recent Sierra Club-National Council of La Raza national poll of Latino voters. I wasn't, and you wouldn't be either if you saw the thrilled faces of the young people the Hispanic Access Foundation (HAF) and Denver-based Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK) took rafting in Colorado this summer. One trip down Class III rapids in Browns Canyon, and now these kids are vocal champions for the outdoors.
It took a caravan of eight vans and SUVs to carry our group of 68 young people (mostly high school-age) and their parents through the scenic Rockies to Buena Vista, Colorado, in July. We tightened our life jackets, strapped on helmets, and climbed into 11 rafts for the guided trip down the Arkansas River through the breathtaking Browns Canyon landscape. We looked for wildlife on the shores - and learned the definition of a "high side." Some of us had never been rafting before, but we were all inspired to return.
Better yet, we were inspired to fight to protect this place so that young people could always enjoy it. U.S. Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) is leading a local effort to ensure permanent protection for Browns Canyon. Working with Congress, President Barack Obama could declare a National Monument here so that the river, its native wildlife, and the experiences of visitors like us are preserved for future generations.
Local business owners, like the experienced outfitter that led our trip, Noah's Ark, are engaged in these conservation efforts, as are local elected officials. And yes, Latinos too.
According to the National Council of La Raza poll results, more than 9-in-10 Latino voters (94%) say outdoor activities such as fishing, picnics, camping, and visiting national parks and monuments are important to them and their families. Nearly 7-in-10 (69%) Latino voters say they would support the president designating more public land as national monuments.
The young people in our group sent postcards about the Browns Canyon trip and its protection to Sen. Udall. They are planning a trip to Washington, D.C., next month to visit Secretary Ken Salazar at the U.S. Department of Interior and encourage him, policy-makers and the public to join them in championing the protection of Browns Canyon, and all of our parks, rivers and national monuments.
These outdoor wonders belong to all of us, and these kids didn't need polling to inspire their leadership -- just a trip down a river. Maybe we need to get Congress outside, too.