As a parent, there are few things more rewarding and enjoyable to me than taking my kids outdoors. My wife and I choose to live and do business in Montana because of the vast opportunities right out our back door. But our appreciation for the outdoors started long before we moved here.
I was raised in a northern Wisconsin logging town, and my childhood summer memories are filled with an on-the-lake public space called Hodag Park where our community had reunions, baby showers, wedding receptions, funeral dinners, church potlucks and Independence Day Fireworks.
My wife was raised on a dairy farm in southern Wisconsin, and from the farmhouse, she could see her favorite hiking spot, Blue Mounds State Park. It was there she first developed an appreciation for wild, wide open spaces, which is ultimately what led her out West.
We’ve raised our family in Montana for close to a decade. Our kids were born here and we spend nearly all of our family time outdoors. Our kids fly their kites, ride their bikes, and learned how to play baseball and climb on monkey bars at Manhattan’s Taylor Park. We go on hikes and instill an appreciation for the area’s history at Missouri Headwaters State Park, Madison Buffalo Jump State Park, and do all sorts of outdoor activities at Cobblestone and Fairweather fishing access sites.
What do all these public spaces so important to our childhoods have in common? They are just a few of the thousands of locations made possible by the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Each one, including the tennis courts, relies on funding from the LWCF.
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Utilizing offshore oil and gas royalties, not taxes, LWCF funds the purchase of fishing access sites, family parks and even swaths of wild public lands across the country. Montana has benefited from this national program for more than 50 years – yet it's set to expire in less than 90 days.
On Wednesday, June 20, Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester both expressed their full support for the Land and Water Conservation Fund in front of a crowd on the Capitol lawn in D.C. They both spoke at a podium draped with a “Save LWCF” sign and were surrounded by LWCF advocates. Sen. Daines pointed out that Montanans choose to live here because “people like to work where they also like to play,” referring to the public lands in close proximity to Montana’s urban areas, lands that LWCF helped acquire.
Sen. Daines also acknowledged LWCF’s ability to help unlock currently inaccessible lands by identifying and purchasing easements or parcels of lands that open access. It’s worth noting that Montana has more inaccessible public land than any other state; if we’re to change this, LWCF dollars are the best tool we have to do that.
Yet, just hours after Sen. Daines confidently stated that “this is important for us and I support the full and permanent funding of LWCF” he walked into the Capitol and voted to cut the current LWCF budget by $16 million.
So, which is it, Sen. Daines? You say one thing then vote the opposite way. Even my kids can tell you: That’s no way to earn someone’s trust. I urge you to follow through and talk to your party’s leadership and get LWCF across the finish line. When you do, my family will applaud from the monkey bars and mountaintops.