By Eric Oliver, Conservation Fellow
There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 crisis has created an unprecedented challenge here in Idaho. No matter who you are, your day-to-day routine has been turned upside down. Faced with uncertainty, Idahoans across the state are turning toward our families, our communities, and, increasingly, finding peace and resiliency in our parks and open spaces.
A lot has changed: life’s pace is a bit slower, the future is unpredictable, and my plans for getting outdoors have shifted. Idaho’s stay-at-home order allows recreation but asks us to avoid traveling to rural communities and their neighboring public lands. So, I’ve swapped early-season camping trips for evening walks in the foothills and traded road trips for jogs along the Greenbelt, all while keeping my distance from others.
Meanwhile, the news is filled with stories of the heroes and hardships that are at once inspiring, heartbreaking, and deeply important. But last week, a different story caught my eye: the Department of the Interior will be sending Idaho $2.3 million for our parks and open spaces, funded by a national program called the Land and Water Conservation Fund, or LWCF.
If there were ever a time to celebrate this investment, it’s today.
Trails and parks in the Treasure Valley were seeing record use well before the coronavirus led many of us to take up a daily pilgrimage to our local parks and trails. The Greenbelt, the foothills, and nearly every neighborhood park in between have all benefited from the LWCF. Remarkably, the program’s funding comes from offshore drilling royalties, so it doesn’t compete with our tax revenue at a time when every dollar counts. All 44 of Idaho’s counties have received LWCF funds; it’s truly a win-win.
This year’s $2.3 million payment to Idaho is a notable increase from prior years thanks to bipartisan support nationally. Since the 1960s, the LWCF has invested nearly $300 million in Idaho for parks, trails, and open space. Last year, the program was made permanent with the support of Idaho’s Senators and Congressman Mike Simpson. This year, Congress is considering fully funding the program, which would double its investment in Idaho’s open spaces for years to come. Our leadership in Congress should solidify this legacy and double down on supporting our outdoor amenities. Now more than ever, we’re seeing how important parks and open spaces truly are.
When I stare up at the Boise ridge, eyeing the lingering snow and the mountains beyond, I hope that the summer will bring a resolution to the crisis, and with it, the hiking, camping, and adventures that define Idaho’s outdoor spirit. But in the meantime, I’ve grown a deeper appreciation for the close-to-home amenities that make Idaho such an amazing place to live. The LWCF’s investment in Idaho is a gift in trying times, and its future is in our leaders’ hands. For our strength today and our vision for tomorrow, Congress should fully fund the LWCF.