By Kelly Peaks, 2020 Summer Intern
As a child, I remember always looking forward to playing in my local park, Louise F Cosca Park, after school. I loved the tire swing, the monkey bars, and, as far as my childhood brain could comprehend, the “life-size” pirate ship. I cherish those afternoons making friends with children in my community as we ran along the pond. Or the many church picnics that were held in the park’s recreational spaces.
Parks have always been an important part of my life and have had a hand in shaping who I am today. These community parks that I frequented, Louise F Cosca, Watkins Regional Park, Henson Creek Park, and many more were partially funded by grants from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The upcoming House vote on Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) will strengthen park protections and ensure that national parks, as well as local parks, are able to be properly maintained and funded.
Parks have held a special place in my heart because they housed so many life events. One of those celebrations was the annual church picnics my family and I attended. The church picnics were a great way to bond with other parishioners outside of the church. My favorite activity was the nature walk where we would follow one of the many park trails. If we were fortunate enough to be in Watkins park, we would be able to ride the mini train that circled the property. Many of the families that attended the picnic lived in DC, so they didn’t readily have access to larger parks. The picnics were a wonderful way to provide the children with access to nature and teach them to respect and appreciate nature as an important part of our faith.
As a 24-year-old adult, I’ve outgrown the playground, but I’ve come to appreciate the other facets that parks have to offer. Access to nature and wildlife, beautiful views, and trails are only some of my favorite park activities. Since this pandemic has forced many of us to work from home, parks have become a place of solace. Parks have become such a popular destination because they are some of the only places we can enjoy while still being able to safely socially distance.
The past few weeks my family has spent quite a few afternoons walking along the path in Henson Creek Park. It has felt amazing to have a way to safely get out of the house and to find some sense of normalcy. There were families there teaching their kids to ride a bike, observing the local wildlife, and simply bonding with nature.
Personally, sitting inside all day, every day, can take a toll on my mental health. The times I’m able to take a break and take a walk have helped clear my head, boost my mood, and aid with efficiency. If I didn’t have access to parks, I think that self-quarantining would be more difficult for me. I am so thankful to have access to many parks in my district and hope that they remain open and cared for so that everyone can have access to nature for the duration of this quarantine.
The LWCF is a program that was created by Congress in 1964 to protect the nation’s natural and culturally significant areas and the resources around them, as well as provide recreational areas for citizens to enjoy. The program includes funds for National parks and refuges but also provides grants for states and localities that go towards smaller, community parks.
Every year, revenue from offshore oil and gas is supposed to go towards this fund, but a large portion of this money has been diverted from parks. Because of this, there is a backlog of maintenance needs totaling almost $30 billion, over $244 million in Maryland alone. The diversion of funds is jeopardizing park infrastructure, which endangers visitors’ health, safety, and enjoyment of parks.
This is where the GAOA comes in to address these challenges by providing a more dedicated source of funding. It promises to end the diversion of funds and ensures that they are spent on their intended purpose: parks. It will also establish the National Parks and Public Lands Legacy Fund which will direct money towards park repairs. Just last month, U.S. Senate passed the Great American Outdoors Act. This is partially due to strong support from our great Maryland Senators as well as House Majority Leader, Steny Hoyer.
Rep. Hoyer has announced that at the end of this month this legislation will be voted on in the House, and with its strong bipartisan support, he is optimistic that it will pass and will officially be signed into law. I am grateful to Rep. Hoyer as well as our state senators for their leadership and commitment to bring it to the floor and I hope that it will pass.
I’ve noticed maintenance issues over the past few years in these smaller parks. It has been little things like broken swings, fallen trees, and unkept trails. With the pandemic and the backlog of maintenance issues, these small things can turn into larger problems that prevent people from enjoying their local parks. In times like these, where nature is one of the only safe places that we can escape to, we need legislation like the Great American Outdoors Act to improve our parks and provide us with spaces to clear our minds, bond with family, and build lasting memories.
I hope you join me in adding your name to our petition to get this legislation passed.