As many of us return from our July 4th vacations, sightseeing and picnics, it’s the perfect time to celebrate America’s commitment to preserving the outdoors and our access to it. 

But protecting and maintaining these iconic outdoor destinations doesn’t happen by accident — it requires sustained stewardship, as well as money.

Right now, Congress has a chance to make sure Colorado’s outdoor treasures are protected for generations to come.

Emily Struzenberg

That means fully funding America’s best conservation program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

In the early Sixties, President John F. Kennedy came up with the idea for the program, later  signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965. The promise? To invest hundreds of millions of dollars in outdoor projects for the benefit of all Americans.

In the 54 years LWCF has been around, it has funded over 41,000 projects in all 50 states, whether it’s national parks (think Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains and Grand Teton National Parks), hiking trails or youth sports fields.

All Americans and all Coloradans benefit from LWCF dollars. Despite how long the LWCF has been around, most Coloradans are unaware of how the fund enhances their quality of life and the environment around them. 

LWCF is the reason that we can enjoy iconic views in Rocky Mountain National Park and explore Colorado’s rich history in Canyon of the Ancients National Monument.

Over the years, Congress has had to reauthorize the LWCF multiple times, but legislators have only twice fully funded the program at $900 million. Instead, common practice has been to divert the money elsewhere. In fact, Congress has raided $22 billion from LWCF since its inception.

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But in 2019, hope rises like spacious skies over amber waves of grain. 

With overwhelming majorities, Congress passed a bill signed by President Donald Trump in March that permanently reauthorized LWCF. Then, two weeks ago, a bipartisan group of representatives including Reps. Diana DeGette and Joe Neguse unveiled a bill in the House that would allocate the full annual allotment of $900 million to the LWCF. 

That bill has passed out of committee, and now heads for a full floor vote. The Senate also held a hearing last month on a similar bipartisan bill to fully fund LWCF.

Sens. Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet were both cosponsors of the bill that permanently reauthorized LWCF, and Reps. Jason Crow, DeGette, Neguse, Ed Perlmutter and Scott Tipton all voted to reauthorize. We urge Colorado’s entire congressional delegation to follow Reps. DeGette and Neguse’s lead, protect Colorado’s open spaces, and support full funding for the program. 

So while we celebrate our nation’s birthday, we should remember that one of the reasons we have so many beautiful destinations to choose from is LWCF. I think we can all agree that a dollar spent to protect America’s iconic landmarks today and for generations to come is a good investment.

I’m encouraged and inspired by the overwhelming public support behind LWCF. Now, it’s time for our elected officials to finish the job and fully fund America’s best conservation program.

Emily Struzenberg is the Climate Organizer with Environment Colorado, a statewide citizen based group working to protect clean air, clean water and open space. 

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @estruzy245