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Gold Butte deserves star on the map

Even with all of its world-class gaming and entertainment options, Southern Nevada needs to work harder to continue to broaden its economy, including diversifying the conservation tourism market and attractions.

Last Saturday was National Public Lands Day. So let’s turn our attention to Nevada’s amazing natural and culturally rich outdoor public landscapes that add to the future economic health of Nevada.

These unique and resource-rich landscapes, such as Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Valley of Fire and Lake Mead, all have earned their star on the map. There’s another treasured destination, however, that may be the shining star — Gold Butte — also known as “Nevada’s piece of the Grand Canyon.”

Gold Butte deserves our attention and Congress’ official protection to get its own star on the map.

Gold Butte, an early mining town and site, is located between the Grand Canyon Parashant National Monument in Arizona and Lake Mead National Recreation Area, just south of Mesquite. The Gold Butte area is 360,000 acres of rugged mountains, Joshua tree and Mojave yucca forests, sandstone outcroppings and braided washes that turn into slot canyons.

The ancient remnants of American Indian rock art fill the sandstone surfaces with stories not completely understood.

In addition to cultural and historical distinction, Gold Butte offers a plethora of outdoor recreation opportunities, such as camping, wildlife viewing, hiking, hunting, bird watching, biking and off-roading opportunities with 500 miles of designated 4×4 routes. Gold Butte has much to offer visitors, and Nevada’s economy will benefit.

Outdoor activities generate enormous economic power. From out-of-state tourists to local Nevadans who recreate close to home, all these visitors to our protected public lands spend money, generate jobs and support local communities when they get outdoors.

In 2010, an estimated 5.9 million tourists visited BLM lands in our state and had an economic impact of $283.6 million. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, the active outdoor recreation industry contributes more than $730 billion annually to the U.S. economy and supports nearly 6.5 million jobs nationally.

In Nevada, this sector contributes $1.8 billion in goods and services and 20,000 jobs to the state’s economy. We believe a protected Gold Butte can be a significant economic driver for many sectors of our economy.

Conserving lands, while also creating new visibility through protective designations, helps safeguard and highlight the amenities that are proven to attract people and business. Studies have shown that protective land designations, such as what’s proposed for Gold Butte, a national conservation area with some wilderness, are key quality-of-life factors influencing CEOs and business owners when determining the location of their headquarters and facilities and attracting a talented work force.

Further, an NCA designation will ensure that more of our federal tax monies are returned to the state for our economic benefit.

Protective status also helps attract retirees, who often have a choice of where to live.

Surveys consistently have identified natural amenities and recreation opportunities as key factors determining where entrepreneurs and retirees choose to locate.

And it’s not just about attracting new folks. A recent study of the western United States by the nonpartisan research group Headwaters Economics shows that protective designations like NCAs and national monuments increase overall economic performance for local residents and communities.

Growing our local economies and increasing our visibility with a Gold Butte protective designation is just common sense. Attracting new retirees and businesses, while adding to our tourist attractions by making Gold Butte a stop on the vacation loop that will coax that extra night of lodging is good for business and good for Nevada — that’s why businesses such as Caesars Entertainment, Lush Cosmetics and many small mom-and-pop shops all support protecting Gold Butte.

The time is now to get another star on the map.

We call on Nevada’s congressional leaders to step up for Nevada’s economic future and introduce legislation to protect Gold Butte — Nevada’s piece of the Grand Canyon.

Richard Bryan is a former Nevada governor and U.S. senator. Sig Rogich is president of Rogich Communications Group, a Las Vegas public relations firm. Susan Holecheck is a former mayor of Mesquite.

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