New Colorado Comeback Laws Protect our Great Outdoors, Support Small Businesses

Four bills to create Colorado Wild Pass, fund the Energize Grant Program and invest in outdoor equity and conservation signed into law

DENVER, CO — Governor Polis today signed three Colorado Comeback bills to invest state and federal stimulus funds into supporting small businesses, improving access to outdoor recreation opportunities and keeping our public lands beautiful and well preserved for decades to come, and one bill to create a more sustainable funding mechanism for our state parks. 

“Today we put the final touch on funding two phenomenal programs to help small businesses thrive and ensure more Coloradans can reap the countless benefits of enjoying our great outdoors,” said Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, sponsor of HB21-1302 and HB21-1318. “Both of these programs will promote equity in Colorado. Our Outdoor Equity Grant Program will ensure that youth of color have the same outdoor recreation opportunities as their peers, while the Energize Gap Fund continues to provide rural, women and minority-owned business owners with a critical lifeline. I’m so proud of the work we did this legislative session to create a more inclusive,  more equitable and more prosperous Colorado for all.” 

“The Energize Gap Fund has proven itself to be an effective program for helping small businesses get back on their feet and go on to thrive,” said Rep. Lindsey Daugherty, D-Arvada, sponsor of HB21-1302. “Today’s robust investment in the program will help rural, minority-owned, veteran-owned and women-owned businesses across the state power the Colorado Comeback that is already well under way.” 

HB21-1302 will provide $15 million to the successful Energize Gap Fund that provides individual small businesses with up to $15,000 of direct aid to help them recover from the pandemic. Colorado established the fund to support as many Colorado businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic as possible, but it specifically prioritized rural businesses and those that are majority owned by veterans, women and minorities. HB21-1302 makes modifications to ensure an equitable distribution of funds by also prioritizing businesses that missed out on the initial cycle of funding, businesses in economically distressed areas and for-profit sole proprietorships. 

“For people with disabilities, access to outdoor recreation can literally be life changing, said Rep. David Ortiz, D-Littleton, sponsor of HB21-1318. “But far too often we and other underserved groups are prevented from accessing these beautiful spaces by enormous barriers, whether they be physical, economic, or otherwise. The program we created today will help tackle these obstacles and make Colorado’s world-renowned mountains, rivers and parks more accessible to all.”

HB21-1318 creates a grant program to provide funding to organizations that reduce barriers to the Colorado outdoors for underserved youth and their families. Grants would be awarded to entities that create pathways for formal or informal conservation or offer environmental and Colorado outdoor-based educational opportunities. An equity board in the Division of Parks and Wildlife will oversee the grant program. The program would be funded through revenue from the Colorado lottery.

Despite the availability and ease of access to some of the most beautiful outdoor spaces on earth, certain demographics of Colorado youth and their families still face significant obstacles and challenges to accessing these spaces. Research shows that more time spent in nature is essential to health and wellbeing, and it improves physical and mental health, reduces stress and enhances social skills. 

“Colorado’s passion for enjoying the great outdoors has taken a toll on our beautiful state parks,” said Rep. Kerry Tipper, D-Lakewood, sponsor of SB21-249. “By creating the Keep Colorado Wild Pass, today we ensured that our iconic public lands stay preserved and well cared for while being enjoyed by more Coloradans of every stripe.” 

SB21-249, also sponsored by Rep. Perry Will, R-New Castle, will create the Keep Colorado Wild Pass, which will be available when  a vehicle is registered or during the registration renewal process. The new pass grants entry into state parks and other public lands and the revenue collected from the pass will go toward supporting search and rescue efforts and investments in our public lands and state parks, which have taken a toll from a surge in outdoor recreation during the COVID pandemic. The pass will be offered at a discounted price and will cost no more than half the full price of a state parks pass, with a goal to achieve a $20 price with high participation rates.

“Colorado’s 42 state parks are a big part of what makes our state such a desirable and stunning place to live,” said Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, sponsor of HB21-1326. “Keeping these parks pristine and ready to receive the large number of visitors we see every year requires a significant commitment. I’m proud and grateful that we were able to make an important investment in state park upkeep, improvement and repair today.”  

HB21-1326, also sponsored by Rep. Perry Will R-New Castle, will invest $25 million in federal funds to improve Colorado state parks. The new law provides:

  • $750,000 to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center to support backcountry avalanche safety programs;
  • $3.5 million to the Division of Parks and Wildlife to implement its statewide wildlife action plan and the conservation of native species;
  • $2.25 million to the search and rescue fund for use by the Department of Local Affairs in consultation with the division to support backcountry search and rescue efforts;
  • $1 million to the outdoor equity fund for use by the division to implement the outdoor equity grant program;
  • $17.5 million for state park staffing and maintenance and infrastructure and development projects.