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Enjoying the great outdoors is the American way of life — but not for long

Enjoying the great outdoors is the American way of life — but not for long
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Whether marveling at the breathtaking scenery of the Grand Canyon or enjoying a family picnic at the neighborhood park, generations of Latinos have grown up making unforgettable memories enjoying our nation’s vast and diverse public lands. 

The great outdoors is a way of life and a defining element of who we are as a nation. We depend on outdoor spaces to break away from the stress of day-to-day life and ensure our children get the exercise they need to stay healthy, all while making family memories that don’t break the bank. Despite America’s rich outdoor heritage, we too often overlook the vital protections that ensure access to the magical public places we all love and cherish.

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For over five decades, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has been America's most important program to conserve irreplaceable lands and improve outdoor recreation opportunities throughout the nation. We have the LWCF to thank for the creation and enhancement of over 40,000 community and state parks and playgrounds, as well as national parks and monuments in every state. Whether they know it or not, the Latino community and all Americans benefit substantially from the LWCF.

 

Sadly, this vital conservation and recreation program is set to expire at the end of September unless Congress takes action. Failure to save the LWCF will not only jeopardize our access to the public lands we love, but it will threaten outdoor spaces that hold special cultural and historical importance to the Latino community.

For generations, the LWCF has allowed Americans to enjoy outdoor concerts and cultural celebrations at Roberto Clemente State Park in New York, observe archaeological traces of indigenous Americans in the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, and savor over 400 years of Spaniard and Mexican heritage and culture along the famous El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro. These places help tell the Latino story and educate all Americans that the Latino and Hispano culture are intimately intertwined with the American experience. 

The LWCF is also essential to ensuring that Latinos have access to outdoor spaces that are close to their communities. New Mexico, home to the highest percentage of Latinos of any state in the country, has received over $312 million in LWCF funding over the past five decades to protect treasured public lands including Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge, Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, Mesilla Valley Bosque, and Pancho Villa State Park.

As the leading voice of New Mexicans of Hispano/Latino descent, the New Mexico League of United Latin American Citizens recently resolved unanimously to urge Congress to reauthorize and fully fund the LWCF because of the important contributions it makes to the health, well-being, and economic opportunity of the Latino community in New Mexico and around the country.

Just a couple weeks ago, the Hispano Round Table of New Mexico Board of Directors unanimously passed an identical resolution.

In the coming months, Latinos, and Americans of all backgrounds are counting on Congress to make good on their commitment to the LWCF and guarantee our families are able enjoy America’s iconic landscapes and waterways for generations to come. Failure to do so will put at risk our nation’s legacy of ensuring that our children and families have the ability access and enjoy public lands and parks across the country. 

We are united in our call for our national leaders to do the right thing so that future generations of all Americans can enjoy the benefits of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. 

Ralph Arellanes is the executive director of New Mexico League of United Latin American Citizens and the chairman of the Hispano Round Table of New Mexico.