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Time is running out for America’s most important parks program

Time is running out for America’s most important parks program
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From Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley to the iconic waterfalls and ancient sequoias of Yosemite on the West Coast, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has protected America’s most beloved national treasures and outdoor spaces for over five decades.

In an era when the media is hyperfocused on America’s political divisions, the LWCF is one of very few issues that has the power to cut through this divisive rhetoric and bring together lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. 

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In fact, LWCF was created out of the vision of some of America’s most revered leaders, including Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, whose commitment to the great outdoors outweighed party loyalty. As a result of their bipartisanship, generations of Americans have enjoyed access to open spaces for camping, hunting, fishing, hiking, and playing. Despite this accomplishment and overwhelming support from American voters, this vital program will expire at the end of September unless Congress fulfills its decades old commitment to protect our shared public lands and national treasures. 

As the former superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway, America’s most visited National Park System unit, I have had the unique opportunity to experience one of our greatest outdoor resources on a daily basis. Thanks to the LWCF, Americans have enjoyed access to the Blue Ridge Parkway and other world-class national parks and close-to-home outdoor recreation sites for decades. Whether they know it or not, every American has benefited greatly from this essential fund. 

In recognition of America’s love for our national parks, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the Senate took an important step to protect these magnificent assets earlier this summer. The Restore Our Parks Act aims to tackle the National Park Service’s (NPS) $11.6 billion backlog in deferred maintenance projects to ensure that our parks continue to be welcoming places for our children and future generations of Americans. 

While fixing failing roads, visitor centers, and other infrastructure in our national parks is a serious challenge worthy of Congress’ attention, enacting the Restore Our Parks Act is only a small part of what Congress must do to shore up the national park system. Taking immediate action to reauthorize and fully fund the LWCF, appropriately referred to as America’s best conservation and recreation program, is another crucial element to ensure that Americans can visit our national parks in addition to national forests, wildlife refuges, and over 41,000 state and local park projects that support recreation centers and outdoor spaces in communities across the country.  

Communities across the United States understand that being a good steward of our public lands requires addressing both our critical maintenance needs and saving an essential bipartisan program that has shaped America’s unique outdoor heritage for generations. 

The Restore Our Parks Act has the potential to be a major, bipartisan victory in an era of stalled policy proposals and empty political promises. This will only happen, however, if it is paired with permanent reauthorization and fulling funding for the LWCF. 

With the clock running out on America’s most important parks program, it is time for Congress to set aside politics and stand up for communities across the country who agree that saving the LWCF, in addition to addressing the NPS maintenance backlog, is essential to protecting access to the great outdoors and the unique outdoor heritage we hope to pass along to our children. 

Phil Francis served as superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway from 2005 to 2013. He is currently chairman of The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks.