Gateway: Opinion

Land and Water Conservation Fund helps not only Gig Harbor, but entire state

Gig Harbor City Council member Steve Ekberg stands with Mayor Jill Guernsey at the dedication for the new Eddon Boat Yard Park in February 2014. But Eddon Boat Park and assets like it just lost a critical tool that supports them, a federal program called the Land and Water Conservation Fund. For 50 years the LWCF has protected community green spaces, built parks and trails, and improved boating and recreational access.
Gig Harbor City Council member Steve Ekberg stands with Mayor Jill Guernsey at the dedication for the new Eddon Boat Yard Park in February 2014. But Eddon Boat Park and assets like it just lost a critical tool that supports them, a federal program called the Land and Water Conservation Fund. For 50 years the LWCF has protected community green spaces, built parks and trails, and improved boating and recreational access. Staff file

Sometimes on a weekend afternoon or a day off from school I run into a challenge. It usually starts along these lines — my two daughters have already watched “Frozen” 45 times. They’ve built entire communities in Minecraft and they’re uninspired by Barbie (and even Skipper). When they start to pull out the Pretty Pedicure Salon and eye my feet for a makeover, it’s around the time I proclaim, “Let’s get outside!”

For our kiddos, there is nothing better than escaping the house — to get away from the screens — and go play in our parks. To enjoy the outdoors. It’s one of the things that makes this such a special place to call home.

Luckily for us, Washington state is home to some of the most stunning open spaces, parks and recreational hotspots in our country. I’m not just talking about landmark places like Olympic National Park either. Right in Gig Harbor, there are outstanding parks that dot our waterfront and neighborhoods.

One of our community gems is Eddon Boat Park. There, you can get out on the water, look at the boats in the harbor, and even check out historic boat building and learn more about our community’s historic relationship to the water.

But Eddon Boat Park and assets like it just lost a critical tool that supports them. It’s a federal program called the Land and Water Conservation Fund (the LWCF, for short). For 50 years the LWCF has protected community greenspaces, built parks and trails, and improved boating and recreational access. And quietly, when the calendar turned to Oct. 1, the program ended as a result of Congressional inaction.

Since it was first created, the LWCF has invested nearly $600 million in more than 600 projects across our state — including Eddon Boat Park. In fact, without this vital resource, the City of Gig Harbor contends that it wouldn’t have been able to preserve and improve Eddon Boat.

As a consequence, the city’s leaders, including Mayor Jill Guernsey, have been advocates for Congress reauthorizing this important program, acknowledging its importance — not only to our environment and to recreation, but also to our maritime economy and ability to attract tourists.

They’re right.

The LWCF is a win-win. It’s a vital tool for communities like ours to invest in assets for local residents and for tourists who can enjoy our natural treasures and then spend some money at our local shops and restaurants.

And here’s the kicker — the LWCF is a program that doesn’t cost you a dime. Instead of using taxpayer money from general funds, the LWCF gets its money through oil and gas leases paid by companies drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf. Why shouldn’t we take some of the dollars coming from fossil fuels and turn them into protecting and improving public access to our nation’s treasured landscapes?

But now, the LWCF is shuttered. That means, unless Congress takes action, the program won’t exist to help Port Defiance Park continue to move forward and open up a new access point to the Puget Sound. It can’t help places like Eddon Boat Park improve boating access and maritime infrastructure.

Folks, this should be a no-brainer. In fact, there is bipartisan support to get this done. A bill I’ve cosponsored to permanently reauthorize the fund was introduced by Rep. Dave Reichert. Recently, more than 160 Democrats and Republicans sent a letter to Speaker John Boehner asking him to allow Congress to vote on this bill and keep the LWCF going.

I am fighting to get this done. We need parks and places to bring our families to explore, recharge, and enjoy the outdoors. I hope Congress listens to our bipartisan call so my daughters can continue to have parks and open spaces to enjoy — and so they can put away that pedicure set.

Gig Harbor resident Derek Kilmer serves as the United States Representative of Washington’s 6th Congressional District.

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