National Conservation Areas Offer a Vision for the Valley

Having grown-up in the southeast, surrounded by mostly private land or pay-to-play recreation opportunities, I can vividly remember the first time I rode Rustler’s, Mary’s Loop, Horsethief Bench, and Steve’s Loop back in 2008. Those springtime pedal strokes ushered in more than just miles of smiles. They brought with them my first ever encounter with our National Conservation Lands.

I had only recently moved out to Colorado and was still living on the Front Range when some friends and I decided to spend a weekend exploring bike trails on the Western Slope. I can say with absolute certainty that the moment I looked up from Rustlers’ and laid eyes on the Colorado River, paralleling my path far below, I immediately began to wonder how I might come visit the Grand Valley more often. The riding was second only to the scenery, and both were the best Colorado had to offer. As we departed the trailhead that day, I saw a sign that read McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area. Honestly, I had no idea what that meant, so I did a little digging and what I found is why I live here today. It’s why I decided this wasn’t just a place to visit; it was the place for me to plant roots. By August 1st of that same year, I was living in GJ.

Here’s what I learned.

National Conservation Areas (NCAs) are large, multiple-use landscapes, designated by Congress and managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The purpose of these designations is to conserve, enhance, and manage public lands with exceptional scientific, cultural, ecological, historical, and recreational values, for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. Contrary to undesignated BLM lands, NCAs aren’t subject to energy development, meaning that land managers can focus squarely on their efforts to protect significant natural resources and foster the myriad of other uses, outdoor recreation being high up on the list. 

Of the 16 NCAs in the United States, three are located in Colorado and all are within about an hour’s drive from Grand Junction. From incredible trail riding experiences like Horsethief Bench and Sidewinder, to outstanding opportunities for solitude in wilderness, from gold medal trout waters, to iconic river canyons, McInnis Canyons, Dominguez-Escalante, and Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Areas offer enormous benefits to our local communities and to the quality of life enjoyed by residents and visitors alike.

When I realized, back in 2008, that the local community had not only developed a shared vision for the Kokopelli Loops, Rabbit Valley, the Fruita front country, the Colorado River and the Black Ridge Canyon Wilderness Area, but had also then banned together and lobbied Congress to permanently protect the area and its opportunities designating it a National Conservation Area, I knew this was the place for me.

Eight years later, I find my story coming full circle as I begin my tenure with Colorado Canyons Association as its Assistant Director. At CCA we have the distinct pleasure of working with our partners at BLM and many dedicated volunteers from across our communities to take care of all three National Conservation Areas. Whether promoting the recreational opportunities these places provide, or working with the school districts to provide students with hands on experiences in these learning landscapes, I look forward to every season of our work. To learn more about these wonderful NCAs or to get involved in our programs please visit our website at or email me at


Kate Graham is the assistant director for Colorado Canyons Association and the local announcer for the 2016 Grand Junction Off-Road mountain bike race.