Mary Ellen’s Blog: Outdoors for All


Originally published on the Huffington Post 

On September 30th, just 61 days from now, one of the most important funding streams supporting the conservation of our public lands and waters is set to expire.

Created by an Act of Congress in 1965, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is critical to the maintenance of our parks and the protection of outdoor recreation access. LWCF has provided funds to nearly every state and every county in the country for the creation of parks, the protection of natural treasures and the expansion of outdoor recreational opportunities. There’s a good chance that your local playground, public park, or community ice rink benefited from LWCF.

Congress established the LWCF as a way to do something positive for the environment with revenue from oil and gas drilling. The idea was to protect natural places for all Americans as a counterbalance to the depletion of natural resources. Now, unless Congress reauthorizes the fund, our public lands and waters are at risk of falling even further into disrepair. Every year, oil and gas companies pay $900 million dollars to the federal government, but most of this money does not go towards conservation. Since 1987, the average annual appropriation for the LWCF has been only $40 million.

Protecting public lands is at the heart of the Corps movement. The Civilian Conservation Corps, the predecessor to today’s Corps, was created during the Great Depression as a way to put millions of young men to work constructing new parks, planting billions of trees, and restoring our existing public lands infrastructure. Modern Corps continue this legacy; on any given day, you can see Corps hard at work building trails and restoring habitats in our national, state and local parks. The work for many LWCF-supported public lands maintenance and improvement projects has been carried out by Corpsmembers. If LWCF is allowed to expire, Corps could suffer from decreased project funding, but, more importantly, we all could suffer from reduced outdoor recreation access.

The great outdoors should be available to all, but many Americans, especially those living in urban areas, need parks and recreational facilities in order to get outside. Even people who are surrounded by nature in more rural communities benefit from well-maintained trails and waterways free of pollutants and invasive species. Access to the outdoors should be a right, not a privilege. But we need funding – like the LWCF – and dedicated individuals – like those involved in the Corps movement – to protect this right by maintaining our public lands and waters.

This summer, The Corps Network introduced Eli the Elk. Similar to how Smokey Bear speaks about the dangers of forest fires, and Woodsy Owl reminds people to “Lend a hand – care for the land,” Eli is traveling around the country as a paper cutout to highlight the importance of America’s treasured public lands, and the federal funding that supports conservation, through his slogan “Conserve today for access tomorrow!” If you agree with Eli’s message, follow him on Twitter to show your support. The week of July 27th – 31st is Eli’s first social media campaign; be sure to get online and use the hashtags #EliElk and #outdoors4all to help him spread his important message to as many people as possible. If you plan to be outside soon, print out a copy of Eli and take him with you. Snap a picture with him and share it on Twitter @ElitheElk. Every new person engaged in the campaign helps. You can also help protect the outdoors by signing the Land and Water Conservation Fund’s petition to Congress to reauthorize the LWCF.

This is a very important time for public lands conservation. We need to take action now.