This guest column was featured in the October 12th edition of the Las Cruces Bulletin, page A9
LWCF is vital to communities
Last month, Congress had the opportunity to reauthorize and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a bipartisan program that for 53 years has funded and protected thousands of national parks, monuments and local recreation areas across our country. Unfortunately, Congress failed to pass any bill, putting the future of our nation’s most important program for expanding access to public lands and supporting recreation projects at the national, state, and local level at risk.
Years ago, when I would think of public lands, I would think of solitude. I would think about my childhood, camping in the Gila Wilderness with my friends and family. We would often meet hikers along the Continental Divide Trail.
However, my experiences in the last four years working with amazing leaders and community members in Las Cruces and Doña Ana County have resulted in highlighting the benefits local businesses receive from public places like the Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks National Monument. What this has taught me is that protected public lands and parks benefit our communities in many ways.
So, as I set out on a road trip in August to learn about projects funded by LWCF across southern New Mexico.
I kept an open mind about what I might learn and was rewarded for it. I was happy to discover rich narratives of diverse communities building connections with public spaces and honoring traditions, all thanks to LWCF-protected spaces (see SaveLWCFNewMexico.com to learn about the sites I visited).
The LWCF has contributed $312 million to New Mexico and funded projects in every single county in its half century of existence.
The adventure showed the impact of LWCF on Native American communities.
The Silver Lake Recreation Area on the Mescalero Apache Reservation, for example, provides 24 jobs to people, while Red Rock Park near Gallup provides a sacred space for tribes across our region to reconnect to their “Mother Earth.”
This road trip also showed how LWCF projects in Silver City, Capitan, and Columbus help support local businesses that are anchors for our communities. That’s why more 80 business owners across New Mexico sent a letter to our Congressional delegation urging them to support the permanent authorization and funding of the LWCF. In fact, a study released last month showed that nearly 80 percent of business owners in New Mexico and across western states support reauthorizing LWCF.
LWCF has also been important to parks that are symbolic of Las Cruces.
Las Cruces residents know the power public lands have on building and supporting communities. That’s why the Las Cruces City Council unanimously passed a resolution in September urging Congress to reauthorize and permanently fund LWCF. It’s why Senators Udall and Heinrich, along with Representatives Lujan and Lujan Grisham, have worked on many fronts to support LWCF.
Unfortunately, Congress failed to respond, so we must make our voices louder. I’m calling on all of you to join me in telling our elected officials how vital LWCF is to our communities.
Please urge our Congressional delegation to continue their efforts to fully fund and permanently reauthorize LWCF, including asking Representative Pearce to join the effort.
Carrie Hamblen is CEO of the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce.