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In our sights: Browns Canyon 

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As a U.S. Army veteran, I find public lands precious because they offer the solitude and experiences that helped me recover from what I endured in Iraq and reintegrate into civilian life. So I'm grateful that U.S. Sen. Mark Udall recently introduced a bill to make Browns Canyon a national monument, and am looking to U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn to support it in the House.

Like many other Americans, veterans count on our public lands for fishing, hiking, camping and hunting with our families — but these activities are especially crucial in vets' physical and emotional healing from the stress of combat. For us, national parks, monuments and public lands aid our recovery and assimilation back into Stateside life.

Growing up in Manitou Springs, I learned about the Earth's history at the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument and gained an appreciation of our nation's outdoors while exploring Pike National Forest. I would have not survived my own transition from being a sniper in Iraq to returning to society if I was unable to access public lands to camp and fish. The serenity of nature helped me find peace of mind, and spending quality time with family and friends in the outdoors allowed me to reconnect without modern distractions.

Just as the men and women in the armed services defend our American way of life every day, we all need to be vigilant in defending our national treasures. Legislation proposed in Congress would sell off public lands and roll back protections. In fact, other veterans and I traveled to Washington, D.C., earlier this year to remind the White House and Congress of our shared responsibility as stewards of our public lands.

Our national parks, monuments and other public lands are fundamental to the America we all love so much. From the towering sequoias in California to the Chimney Rock National Monument near Durango, these are the places that reflect our unique natural and cultural heritage.

Browns Canyon of the Arkansas River is equally deserving of national monument protection. A beautiful river canyon near Salida, it offers one-of-a-kind fishing, rafting and hiking opportunities, and attracts tourists who help stoke economic development in this part of the state. The local community has been working on protecting Browns Canyon for a decade, and veterans — including those in the Vet Voice Foundation — outdoor outfitters and outdoor enthusiasts in Congressman Lamborn's district are united in designating this area as a national monument.

But many of us are concerned that the political dysfunction in Congress could derail the wildly popular S. 1794, the Browns Canyon National Monument and Wilderness Act of 2013.

So we are counting on Congressman Lamborn to recognize the exceptional value in creating a Browns Canyon National Monument, not only for veterans, but also for our shared natural heritage. We encourage everyone who understands the need to protect our unique places to urge Lamborn to avoid political dysfunction and partisan pitfalls and vote yes on the Browns Canyon bill. Call him at 202/225-4422; email him by going to lamborn.house.gov; or write him at 2402 Rayburn HOB, Washington, D.C., 20515.

If Lamborn and others in Congress fail on S. 1794, we are prepared to advocate for national monument status through the Antiquities Act. Championed and signed into law by Teddy Roosevelt, the Antiquities Act allows the president to designate valuable natural areas in the West as national monuments to preserve park and conservation lands. Devils Tower and the Grand Canyon were both originally established this way.

Veterans are grateful for Sen. Udall's leadership on protecting public lands through legislation and supporting the Antiquities Act when necessary, but also via funding for the Land Water Conservation Fund. I urge Congressman Lamborn to also step up and defend our American heritage, including places like Browns Canyon, for our children and grandchildren. Browns Canyon National Monument can be a potent symbol of our patriotism, ensuring the best of our nation is conserved for the future.

Garett Reppenhagen is a third-generation Army veteran who served as a sniper in Iraq and with a peacekeeping force in Kosovo. He grew up in Manitou Springs and now is the Rocky Mountain Coordinator for Vet Voice Foundation.

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