Ask Legislators to Prioritize Outdoor Space
The below is an article originally published in the Waynesboro The News Virginian (found here) by the Alliance’s Augusta County Coordinator, Nancy Sorrells. Nancy has also written a series of articles in The News Virginian about outdoor throughout the region that can be enjoyed this summer. Read here about Grand Caverns, the Chessie Nature Trail, the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway Trail, and Natural Bridge State Park.
Reprinted from The News Virginian – August 4, 2020
Sixteen miles as the crow flies and 45 minutes driving time from the city of Staunton, a large wooden sign stands in front of a dam located deep in the George Washington National Forest.
The sign proclaims that the reservoir behind the dam holds Staunton’s water supply, which remains pure because of the protection afforded by the publically owned forest.
On the other side of the county, the city of Waynesboro has dubbed itself the place “Where Good Nature Comes Naturally.” Young and old alike are walking, cycling, or paddling through town and enjoying the city’s greenway and parks. Fly fishing on the South River and hiking on the Appalachian Trail are now intertwined in Waynesboro’s very identity as a community, and are also fueling the city’s economic engine.
In Augusta, visitors retreat to Natural Chimneys, a county park, for some outdoor solitude where they can hike, picnic, or camp for a few nights. Hunters and anglers take to the national forest and wildlife management areas seeking that big buck or tasty trout.
Public lands also provide protection for some of the rarest and most vulnerable habitats with which we share the planet. A case in point is the newest addition to Virginia’s Natural Area Preserve system, Lyndhurst Ponds. These unique sinkhole ponds in Augusta County are home to rare flora and fauna including a plant, Virginia Sneezeweed, found in only a few spots in the entire world.
Whether it is a greenway, an area managed for hunting and fishing, a local park, a trail or a forest, the one thing that these places have in common is that they are public lands: bought, paid for, and protected by the people. Public lands represent some of the very best returns that your tax dollars can buy. Relatively small investments by your local, state, and federal representatives can ensure clean air and water, provide buffers against flooding, and help fuel our economic engines through tourism dollars. (Outdoor recreation generates $887 billion in spending nationally!)
But a global pandemic has given us yet another reason to value the outdoors. With 2020’s arrival of the deadly coronavirus, another benefit of public open spaces has risen to the top of the list — preserving our sanity! That’s right, spending time communing with nature rather than crowding into a big event has provided a safe and powerful release valve in these crazy times. Now, more than ever, we have come to realize that getting outdoors is good for our physical health and our mental health.
I speak from personal experience. Since the middle of March, my friend and I (and sometimes our dogs) have explored public lands across much of western Virginia. For 17 weeks in a row, we have visited state parks, wildlife management areas, national forests, local parks, rail trails, and greenways. The weekly jaunts have refreshed and invigorated us to the point where we can now scramble up steep paths and hike for many miles without physically collapsing.
I have been sharing many of our outdoor explorations in this newspaper’s Monday morning feature “Take a Hike.” From the feedback that I have been receiving, it is clear that many of you are also enjoying the opportunity to take a break from the pandemic by stretching your legs, breathing in some fresh air, and enjoying nature.
But even if you haven’t gotten outside for a hike, know that those public lands have been working for you — providing clean air and water and keeping our economy strong. That is why it is so important for you to contact our legislators in this upcoming special General Assembly session and make your wishes known concerning committing funds to outdoor spaces.
In terms of “bang for the buck,” there is hardly anything that provides so much return for so little financial commitment. Our legislators are hit from all sides with funding requests and it is often hard to prioritize, especially with the pandemic pressures piled on top of everything else. The coronavirus crisis, however, has helped us truly understand the importance of open space for each and every person in each and every community now and in the future.
Please ask your state legislators to preserve and even enhance the funds that have been directed toward protecting the Commonwealth’s air, water, and land in the upcoming Special Session of the General Assembly. Getting outside for the health of it is important to all Virginians.