Growing up in Montana, I learned to fly-fish when I was 5, tie my own flies at 7 and when I turned 10, my father took me down the Smith River in a redwood canoe he built himself. Since then, I’ve made 40 trips in 40 years down that gorgeous river. On every trip, I see and experience something new.
Even as a child, I marveled at our stunning landscapes and rivers. But one thing I didn’t appreciate until recently was a conservation program started 54 years ago which has helped make our public lands and waters more accessible for all Americans. It’s called the Land and Water Conservation Fund and it has created parks, hiking and biking trails, waterfront access and much more in nearly every county in America.
Over the years, it has provided Montana with over $620 million to help support places such as Glacier National Park, Lone Pine State Park and the Kootenai River watershed. In fact, nearly seven out of 10 fishing access sites in Montana were created with funding from LWCF, including the Camp Baker put-in and the Eden Bridge take-out on the Smith River. The Land and Water Conservation has helped fuel Montana’s $7 billion outdoor recreation economy.
Earlier this year, Congress wisely voted to permanently reauthorize this fund, which is entitled to receive $900 million every year. The money comes from offshore oil revenues and not one dime comes from taxpayers. Unfortunately Congress has only allocated that full amount twice in the fund’s history. That’s why the Senate will take up a bill next week which would permanently and fully fund the LWCF.
The vote will happen just days after Veterans Day, which seems appropriate since so many veterans have found healing and camaraderie in places that have been funded by the Land and Water Conservation Fund. As a veteran of the Montana Air National Guard who served a tour in Iraq, I know how beneficial it can be to spend time outside in nature.
Helping other veterans appreciate the beauty of our treasured public lands is one reason I guide fishing trips with the Freedom Ranch and the Healing Waters organizations. Several times a year I take veterans from around the country down the Big Hole River for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. (Several spots along the Big Hole were also funded by LWCF). Whether it’s the soothing rhythm of casting a fly rod or the sound of the river or the light that filters through the trees, I’ve witnessed a tremendous change in veterans when they get out on the water. It allows them to find peace that may elude them in their everyday world.
That’s why as we approach this Veterans Day, I’m urging the Montana Congressional delegation to actively support the much-needed LWCF full funding bill. It’s important for our public lands and waters. It’s important for our outdoor recreation economy. But it’s also very important to the men and women who have served their country and who now want enjoy the lands they helped to protect.
Tim Crowe is a lifelong Montanan who enjoys hiking, hunting and fishing with his family every chance he gets.