This piece originally appeared as an op-ed in The Arizona Republic on December 13, 2018.
By Viviana Reyes
Opinion: If Congress fails to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, many outdoor experiences we enjoy in Arizona could be compromised.
When my daughter, Vida, was 3, she wanted to go on an adventure.
We packed up our backpacks with snacks, notebooks, crayons and water, and set out to explore the outdoors. We headed to Phoenix’s Piestewa Peak to climb rocks and investigate various plants and animals, and had an inspiring day that sparked our curiosity for the natural world right in our own backyard.
Vida is 8 now and a proud member of the Girl Scouts, where I also work. I watch as she and her troop members learn new skills, push the boundaries of their imaginations and nurture their connections to the earth.
I am also struck when I see Latino families in Phoenix grow closer each year when we gather at South Mountain Park to go camping, practice archery and cook dinner on the open fire. All of the generations bond for this special experience in the outdoors that is becoming increasingly rare in our urban culture.
This fund has built dozens of parks
Access to and conservation of public lands is what makes these important activities possible. These poignant moments in the open air are the best antidotes I know to the stress, technology and fast-paced lives that most of us have.
But I worry that this access may be threatened if Congress does not reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) right away.
The LWCF is perhaps the most important piece of federal legislation that has been protecting our nation’s land and water for the last 58 years. Since it was founded in 1960, it has provided approximately $235 million in funding for Arizona alone to safeguard places like the Grand Canyon and Saguaro National Parks, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Coconino National Forest, and dozens of urban parks throughout Phoenix and beyond.
If you have celebrated a birthday at a local park, participated in one of the state’s free fishing days or roasted marshmallows in a national forest, you’ve likely enjoyed the benefits of LWCF. The best part is the funding comes from offshore drilling fees and not from taxpayer dollars.
Nevertheless, Congress allowed LWCF to expire in September. There are bipartisan bills pending that would allow it to be permanently reauthorized, but Congress must act quickly to protect the future of LWCF.
This isn't just about land and water
The LWCF not only allows the public the ability to discover the incredible landscapes and wildlife this country has to offer, but it also protects one-of-a-kind cultural and historic resources. Arizona’s Dead Horse Ranch State Park, for example, has a cemetery where some early Latino residents of the area are buried.
Access to public lands is also essential to the health of Latino communities, which suffer disproportionately from obesity, diabetes, asthma and heart disease. We need more trails, basketball courts, skate parks and soccer fields – not less.
The LWCF also supports a vital part of Arizona’s economy. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation such as hunting, fishing and wildlife watching in our state generates $21.2 billion annually in consumer spending, supports 201,000 jobs, and produces $1.4 billion annually in state and local tax revenue.
It’s not just land and it’s not just water. Our public lands are the essence of our democracy – where all Americans have equal ownership and access regardless of cultural or socioeconomic backgrounds.
Preserving these spaces is not only important to the Latino community. It represents a fundamental American value.
My kids deserve access to the outdoors
As a parent, I understand how important it is to have access to the outdoors, where children are encouraged to be messy, make noise, and move in physically intense ways.
If Piestewa Peak or South Mountain Park were suddenly inaccessible, my daughter would be devastated. When she grows up, I need to be able to look her in the eyes and tell her that I did everything I could to protect these important places.
Vida still loves adventure. We’re planning camping trips to Flagstaff and Sedona, and eventually we will make it to Utah, Colorado and beyond. We need our parks to stay open because we have a lot of exploring to do.
We’re really just getting started.
Viviana Reyes is the Latino community innovation manager for the Girl Scouts – Arizona Cactus-Pine Council and a board member of Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting & the Outdoors (HECHO).