Opinion

Investments in parks support local economy

Parks, what would we do without them?

Trails, waterways, and recreational areas for hiking, biking, boating, hunting, fishing, and exploring are all part of the life we expect and value so much here in Washington.  Protecting watersheds to ensure a clean water supply and safeguarding critical habitat and corridors for wildlife are common community goals.  We don’t need to go far to enjoy the wealth of outdoor activities in our state from Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks and forests, to more local rec areas like North Kitsap Heritage Park, Nelson Park in Poulsbo and Lions Park in Bremerton, we are surrounded by the beauty of nature.

Few people realize, however, that critical funding to secure, conserve, and maintain these many remarkable parks and forests in our backyards and around the State, comes through a little-known program called the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

LWCF is our nation’s premier tool to preserve national parks, forests and wildlife refuges, and to provide our communities with state and local parks and recreation areas – and it doesn’t cost taxpayers a dime. The Fund reinvests a small fraction of royalties collected from oil and gas companies when they drill in public waters located offshore.

But despite the value that the LWCF brings to our communities and our State, cuts in the House of Representative’s budget bill would cripple the ability of the LWCF to continue making a difference here in Kitsap County.

Fortunately, Representatives Jay Inslee and Norm Dicks understand the value of conservation and recreation for Washington. This month, Rep. Inslee co-sponsored and helped pass an amendment to restore $20 million in LWCF funding – a first step in maintaining funding for this important program.

Rep. Dicks, a longstanding champion of the LWCF program, raised concerns about the cuts included in the bill in his capacity as the ranking Democratic member of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee.

In Kitsap County, LWCF has helped make possible 22 of our prized local and state parks. Two projects this year rely on funding from LWCF to move forward. The North Kitsap Heritage Park trail will be completed, providing a center point for regional trail connections and adding two miles of non-motorized trails. On Bainbridge Island, a proposed project under LWCF would unify the Grand Forest and provide increased access to one of the Island’s most used trails, while protecting an essential wildlife corridor.

Statewide, LWCF is also responsible for critical conservation investments in Olympic National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, the Pacific Crest Trail corridor and numerous other iconic destinations.

Of course, we all understand that this country is confronting unsustainable federal deficits and that all of us must bear some of the burden when it comes to getting America’s fiscal house in order. But investments in our natural resources comprise only around 1 percent of the federal budget and current cuts are disproportionately weighted on conservation and recreation programs.

I would argue that especially in these tough economic times, investment in our natural resources is essential to preserve our quality of life and create and maintain jobs in the recreation sector of our economy. According to the Outdoor Industry Foundation, active outdoor recreation contributes $11.7 billion to Washington’s economy and recreation-based activities generate some $8.5 billion in retail dollars and millions in tax dollars and support 115,000 jobs annually in Washington state alone. Kitsap County is a growing part of this important economic sector as we develop and promote natural destinations to explore.

Imagine the opportunities that would be lost if LWCF were eliminated.

Representatives Inslee and Dicks have demonstrated the foresight to work to maintain our Evergreen State.

 

Rob Gelder is Kitsap County commissioner, Dist. 1.

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