HARPSWELL — I have called Maine home for 50 years, but I grew up an Appalachian kid in the Shenandoah Valley, not far from Shenandoah National Park.  My childhood was spent outside hiking the Blue Ridge Mountains, biking country roads and canoeing the Maury and James rivers. Now, many decades later and grandfather of a 10 year old, I feel just as restless as an energetic youngster if I go too many days without a hike or biking trip.

Living in Maine, there are plenty of opportunities to be outside. On any day I can visit our local trails or plan a trip to our western boundary or the White Mountains of New Hampshire for longer hikes. New England is home to some of the most challenging and awe-inspiring public lands I’ve ever had the pleasure of exploring. I’m especially pleased to live in a state whose U.S. Reps., Jared Golden and Chellie Pingree, have been fierce advocates for public lands, here in Maine and across the nation.

It was due largely to their work that Congress recently passed the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA), which has accomplished two important objectives for nature and nature-lovers alike.

First, it addresses the $12 billion maintenance backlog in our National Park System, and second, it permanently and fully funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a bipartisan initiative that has been conserving and preserving everything from local parks to wilderness since 1964.

In Maine alone, the LWCF has invested $191.6 million in projects across the state, including well-known national treasures like Acadia National Park and Preserve and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The LWCF also funds much lesser known public community pools, playgrounds and parks in Maine’s rural, urban and suburban communities.

These projects not only serve as places for family gatherings and recreation, they also support Maine’s local businesses. One estimate calculates that the outdoor recreation industry supports $8.2 billion in consumer spending in Maine, as well as 76,000 jobs that generate $2.2 billion in wages and salaries, and produce nearly $548 million annually in state and local tax revenue.

COVID has impacted us all in different ways, but across the country people are united in looking forward and toward recovery. We need spaces to breath, to exercise, to connect and we need jobs and paychecks to pay the bills. The GAOA helps address all of these needs.

I left the Shenandoah Valley in 1967 to join the Marine Corps, and a year later was deployed as a rifle platoon commander in Vietnam.  On a mission near Khe Sanh, I wrote back home that, if I were not carrying a rifle, the mountains on the Laotian border would be beautiful country for hiking. That’s the power of the great outdoors. It can amazingly provide peace and beauty – even in the middle of war.

My time in the Marine Corps was short lived, but my deep affection for the outdoors continues to this day. In fact, as co-chair of the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee, I have worked with colleagues to protect Maine’s public lands, improve water quality in our rivers, and strengthen laws that safeguard air quality in our communities.

As difficult and challenging as the COVID-19 pandemic is every day, I am hopeful that we will – together – take the necessary actions to defeat this virus and restore our lives to some sense of “normalcy.” In Congress, our elected leaders will work together to fund critical medical research, adequate supplies of PPE, and financial support for both essential workers and those who are unemployed. They would do well to reflect on the cooperation and common purpose that led to passage of the GAOA–a law that will provide benefits to every American.

In these unsettling times, the Great American Outdoors Act is a stunning bipartisan piece of legislation that is a win for everyone, everywhere on all counts:  It preserves and expands the public lands; it supports our economy; it provides jobs for American workers. I want to thank the men and women who serve in Congress, particularly Reps. Pingree and Golden, who helped to get this important piece of legislation enacted.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under:

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.