Recreationists have high hopes

Published June 1, 2001

Last November’s Presidential election has brought changes to federal and state land management agencies that will be warmly welcomed by the majority of Americans and outdoor recreationists.

In the days of Teddy Roosevelt, park and forest rangers felt that for their own long-term good, forests should provide not only recreational opportunities, but also timber. The renewable resource of timber helps us all build more affordable homes, and its proper management allows for the expansion of recreation and healthy flora and fauna. The new administration appears to understand that proper management of our forests is necessary to control forest fires and maintain reasonable recreation on our land.

Our new Secretary of Interior, Gale Norton, made it clear during her confirmation hearing that two items topped her “to-do” list:

  • elimination of the multi-billion dollar Park Service maintenance backlog and
  • restoration of the states’ involvement in, and benefits from, the Land, Water and Conservation Fund.

What does this mean for America’s hikers, campers, and snowmobilers? Norton’s position gives us hope that our National Parks will be repaired, properly maintained, and managed for our enjoyment. A properly maintained and managed Park System will make all our outdoor recreation activities more enjoyable and available.

During the Clinton-Gore administration’s two terms, a great deal of tax money was spent acquiring land for no useful purpose other than to put it under federal government control. Recreation groups have openly questioned why federal government officials were so intent on land control. That era, we believe, has ended.

Norton’s appointment to the Department of Interior gives us reason to believe the federal government’s spending will more often take the form of allocating money to state and local governments. They, in turn will be able to purchase and manage land at the state and local level, where recreationists are better organized and more easily heard.

Norton is likely to seek an expansion of the Urban Park and Recreation Recovery Grant Program, which offers grant money for parks and open land in and around urban areas. Most Americans support the expansion of park areas around their cities, to give urban residents the opportunity to interact with Mother Nature close to home. Among most Americans, support runs higher for the notion of purchasing urban land for recreational use than it does for adding further acreage to an existing multi-million-acre Wilderness Area in Montana, Alaska, or Idaho.

This administration, under Gail Norton’s guidance and with the support of Congress, can be expected to establish a budget that calls for a substantial increase in spending for maintenance and recreation activities in all land management agencies. We can also expect more federal funds to be transferred to the state land agencies, giving recreationists additional input into how our state forests, state parks, and urban parks will be developed and managed.

It appears the new management teams in place at the Department of Interior, National Park Service, and U.S. Forest Service will be land managers, not land grabbers. This will be a very good thing for outdoor enthusiasts across the country.

Ed Klim is president of the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association.