Investing In America's Families, Communities, and Economy
Growing up in the borough of Queens in New York City, our idea of a park was a concrete pad where we played stickball with our friends. My mother and father, however, understood the importance of connecting my brother and me to nature. So every year, even though they couldn't afford it, they would send us to a summer camp in upstate New York or in Maine. That was where I developed my love for the great outdoors - a place to escape, to appreciate the environmental wonders that surround us, and to play in a natural way.
My experience is not unique. Through the work of our family foundation, I've witnessed the benefits of protecting community parks and ensuring children and families have safe, close-to-home places to play. At a time when so many of our youth are facing health risks and other challenges associated with a sedentary lifestyle, parks can contribute to a healthy future for our families. These places also offer protections for our drinking water, clean air and wildlife habitat, and enhance the economic viability of rural and urban communities.
Parks also fuel an entire industry: Nationally, outdoor recreation drives as much as $730 billion in annual economic activity and employs 6.5 million Americans (more than double those employed by the U.S. auto industry) in hotels, outfitting shops, guide services, restaurants, and other businesses.
As nature enthusiast and non-fiction author Richard Louv has said, "Nature isn't a problem, it's the solution."
One tool for ensuring our children, communities, and economy can continue to benefit from our great outdoors is the Land and Water Conservation Fund. LWCF is a dedicated fund set up by Congress 45 years ago to use a portion of fees paid by companies conducting offshore oil and gas drilling for permanent protection of land and water onshore. LWCF monies have protected parks from Mount Rainier National Park in Washington to the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area here in Georgia to the Flight 93 crash site in Pennsylvania, as well as provided matching grants for nearly every county in the nation to create community parks and ball fields.
Yet nearly every year, Congress has siphoned money from the fund for unrelated expenditures. This year, Congress has considered zeroing out LWCF despite nine in ten Americans wanting LWCF fully funded and invested in its intended purpose - protecting our land and water.
Our nation's fiscal heath requires critical choices. The President and Congress have an opportunity this fall to make those choices without decimating the conservation funding programs that inspire our children, enhance our communities, and employ millions of our fellow Americans. Our local, state and national parks need our help. On behalf of the park or summer camp that changed your life, and will change your child's life, lend your voice.