National Public Lands Day is Coming Up!

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Saturday, September 30 is National Public Lands Day (#NPLD)!  What will you be doing to celebrate? 

Entrance fees will be waived on all federal public lands and many state parks, including some monuments, wildlife refuges, forests, grasslands, marine sanctuaries, lakes, and reservoirs. (Please check with your local parks to confirm!)

These special places belong to all of us.  They are testaments to our nation’s diverse heritage, recreational resources unparalleled in beauty, and economic engines for local communities.

To learn more about how these special places provide job opportunities and contribute greatly to our national economy, please read the following piece by HECHO Executive Director Camilla Simon. 

How Hispanics & Public Lands Contribute to the Outdoor Economy

More than 50 million Hispanics live in the United States, forming an important constituent base that not only cares about our land, water, and air, but that is an economic force contributing to our nation’s annual $887 billion outdoor recreation economy. In sheer dollar power, Hispanics’ eco­nomic clout has grown from $210 billion in 1990 to $1.2 trillion in 2013, and continues to grow.  

These are powerful numbers, and there is no doubt that they extend to the outdoor recreation economy, especially as we look to data points such as a 2015 survey conducted by the National Shooting Sports Foundation finding that 72% of Hispanics participated in camping, boating, hiking, golfing, hunting or fishing in the previous year.

As part of the Latino Conservation Alliance, HECHO joins four other Latino groups that are well aware of the connections Hispanics have with the outdoors, and in particular with land, water, and air as invaluable resources not just for public health, but also as part of a cultural landscape and heritage. The additional benefit to our economy that the outdoors brings and the role of the nation’s Hispanic buying power is eye-opening.

From the Great Smoky Mountains to the Grand Canyon, our nation’s varied landscapes are an integral part of our culture and collective heritage. The rich history of the United States echoes through our national monuments, parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and battlefields scattered across this great country. These and other public lands tell our story, the story of all Americans-- and it speaks volumes about what we value and how we envision the future.

Still, our public lands are straining under funding and staffing shortages, and the pressure increases as visitation levels grow.  2016 saw a record of 331 million visitors from all over the world. Despite this growing popularity and usage, the Administration's federal budget proposes huge cuts from the Department of the Interior. Unfortunately, these cuts are too deep to be healed by the Presidents donation of $78,000 to address infrastructure needs at battlefields.    

The President talks frequently about bringing back jobs, but job security isn’t a concern unique to the private sector. Public sector employees make up a considerable and important part of our country’s work force.

And, when it comes to budget cuts to a federal agency like the Department of the Interior, the economic impact is far more significant than simply the loss of federal jobs, because public lands are a hub of outdoor recreation economic activity.

According to the National Park Service (NPS), in 2015, national parks received over 307.2 million visits, resulting in park visitors spending $16.9 billion in local gateway regions (defined as communities within 60 miles of a park). Our national parks’ impact on the economy is also reflected in the 295,000 jobs that supplied $11.1 billion in labor income. 

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The economic benefits of caring for and maintaining public lands extend beyond tourism, as well. Studies show that these lands:

  • Attract and retain entrepreneurs, businesses, and qualified workforces. The quality of life offered by access to world-class landscapes gives employers a distinct competitive advantage to recruit top talent and improve local economies.
  • Promote faster growth in regards to population, employment, and personal income. Between 1970 and 2015, personal income in counties with the most federal lands grew 223% while those with the least only grew 90%.
  • Help with water purification, erosion and flood control, carbon storage, pollination, and more. For example, National Forests provide water for 66 million people in 3,400 communities worth $7.2 billion annually.

In this light, cutting budgets that support the management and protection of public lands does not make economic sense given the high all-around return on investment.

Beyond the dollar signs, our public lands hold our nation’s cultural and historical backdrop in trust. Public lands are where all Americans have equal ownership and access regardless of cultural or socioeconomic backgrounds, and they are to be inherited by our children and grandchildren. But when federal workforces are underfunded, how can we ensure that these lands will be around for them? As President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “There is nothing so American as our national parks.... The fundamental idea behind the parks...is that the country belongs to the people…making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us.” It is the essence of democracy.

Learn more about how you can participate here.  And happy National Public Lands Day from HECHO!