Colorado kids need Land and Water Conservation Fund
I’m a seventh-generation Latina Coloradan with roots in the San Luis Valley. I spent my childhood exploring the outdoors with my family — hiking, camping, skiing, rafting, and spending every summer at camp.
Constructed in 1986, La Capilla de Todos Los Santos (the Chapel of All Saints) sits on a hill that overlooks the small town of San Luis and the entire valley. From there, I can see for miles, including the house where I lived as an infant with my grandmother. This awe-inspiring view includes La Vega, one of the few remaining communal grazing lands in the U.S., which literally hasn’t changed since my ancestors settled there over 400 years ago.
When my mom gives tours of this area where she grew up — driving visitors down obscure dirt roads, telling us who lived in each of the crumbling adobe homes — it’s like going back in time.
Recently, I learned that these breathtaking surroundings are preserved partially through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a 50-year-old federal program that’s coming up for reauthorization in Congress. Some people would like to see the LWCF stripped of funds, overlooking the vast beneficial impacts of the program. I applaud Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner for supporting permanent reauthorization of the LWCF, a program he recognized at a recent hearing in Washington, D.C., as helping “establish an outdoor recreation economy that contributes $10 billion of economic activity to our communities and supports over 107,000 good jobs.”
Beyond preservation and economic benefits, the LWCF also provides increased access to recreational opportunities that have a positive impact on Latino communities, particularly youth. I’ve been an outdoor educator for 12 years, and have had many opportunities to take students into nature.
I once took a group of Latino students from a small alternative school in Denver on a rafting trip. Despite living in close proximity to the mountains, many of them had never had the opportunity to leave the city; several were on a path toward dropping out of school. Some of the boys didn’t want to get wet or dirty, and it struck me how detached they were from nature.
After a couple of hours, we finally persuaded them to join in the activities, and by the end of the day they were soaking wet, muddy and happy. This experience brought out the carefree inner child in them that I don’t think they knew existed. Upon returning to school we had a new bond that transferred to stronger relationships and a new willingness to persevere.
There’s nothing more powerful than helping kids of every socio-economic background and every ethnic group and race to unplug and interact with one another and the natural environment. Nature helps us appreciate our humanity. If we only live within walls and are always connected to electronics, we loose our connection to each other and the environment that supports our very existence.
And in a world rife with language and cultural barriers, nature can be a common language where we can find reverence for each other and the Earth. Fostering a connecting to nature is crucial, because we won’t want to preserve what we don’t value, and we won’t value what we don’t experience.
The LWCF preserves our country’s most precious natural resources, like the Great Sand Dunes National Park, the tallest sand dunes in North America; and the Big Spring Creek, a National Natural Landmark recognized as an outstanding example of the natural history of the U.S. It protects the San Luis Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex and a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance recognized as being of significant value not only to the U.S., but also to humanity as a whole.
The LWCF is an overwhelmingly important and successful program that’s been improving our country and protecting our collective American heritage for 50 years.
Lisa Simms is assistant director and dean of curriculum and instruction at the Denver School of Innovation and Sustainable Design.
Original post can be found here: http://www.denverpost.com/2015/05/11/guest-commentary-colorado-kids-need-land-and-water-conservation-fund/