OP-ED: Pa. is beautiful; let's keep it that way

Jessica Bellwoar
In this photo made with a fisheye lens, Tom Ridge the First U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, and 43rd governor of Pennsylvania, left, joins in with some of the family, friends and volunteer representatives for the first ringing of the chimes at the dedication of the 93-foot tall Tower of Voices on Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018 at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pa. The tower contains 40 wind chimes representing the 40 people that perished in the crash of Flight 93 in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, Pool)

As many of us get ready to kick off on 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 Pennsylvania’s outdoor treasures are protected for generations to come.

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

In the early 1960s, 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.

More:OP-ED: The greatest conservation program no one has ever heard of

More:Lancaster conservation group preserves nearly 1,000 acres in York County

In the 54 years LWCF has been around, it has funded over 41,000 projects in all 50 states, whether national parks (think Valley Forge, the Appalachian Trail, Gettysburg and the Delaware Water Gap), hiking trails or youth sports fields.

All Americans and all Pennsylvanians benefit from LWCF dollars. Despite how long the LWCF has been around, most Pennsylvanians are unaware of how the fund enhances our quality of life and the environment around us. For example, LWCF is the reason we could create the Flight 93 Memorial to both honor the victims from 9/11 and to restore the surrounding area in Shanksville by planting hundreds of trees to build a new forest alongside the memorial.

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.

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 Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick from Bucks County, 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 on June 25 on a similar bipartisan bill to fully fund LWCF.

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick continues to be a vocal champion for Pennsylvania's public parks and our outdoor treasures. If we are going to protect LWCF for years to come, we need all of our Pennsylvania senators and members of Congress to fight for secure permanent, long-term funding so that York County can benefit from places like Codorus State Park and Campgrounds, Penn Park and Farquhar Park and Allen Field. 

So while we’re enjoying celebrating 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.

— Jessica Bellwoar is the Conservation Associate for PennEnvironment, the statewide citizen-based non-profit environmental advocacy group.