Ken Salazar, secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, told 2011 National Recreation and Parks Association legislative forum attendees March 16 not to overlook the importance of urban parks, rural landscapes, rivers and what America’s youth can do for the country. As a part of his appeal, he asked for full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
“I can tell you, there are some people up there who think we are crazy when we talk about investing this type of money in conservation and land acquisition,” Salazar told approximately 300 professionals representing 150 park and recreation agencies in 41 states. “So, we need your help.”
He explained how he had testified before Congress four times in the previous week with appeals similar to the one he presented to them – all asking for full funding to support healthy, livable communities. Salazar also presented them with four key ideas from the America’s Great Outdoors (AGO) Report to remember as they met with their legislators on Capitol Hill.
America’s Great Outdoor Report, which was issued February 2011, included the points he highlighted in his presentation:
- Creating the next generation of great urban parks for America. Salazar referenced the cohesive urban park being designed at the base St. Louis Gateway Arch to illustrate its application in other areas of the country. When completed, the park will, for the first time, create open space along the Mississippi River in East St. Louis to connect the historic Dred Scott Courthouse and the renovated Gateway Arch now separated by I-70. Salazar said he thinks this kind of ingenuity will help improve New York City’s 27,000 acres of national parks. He said he and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg have agreed to develop a joint plan between the Department of the Interior, the National Park Service and the City of New York to connect the city’s land assets, which includes $3 billion recently allocated by the city for waterfront improvements.
- Preserving the rural landscapes of America. Salazar said uniting the country’s rural lands fragmented by political boundaries is essential for preserving a key part of the nation’s heritage. As an example, he pointed to successful multi-state landscape conservation cooperatives and used the recent establishment of the 1.1-million acre national conservation area of tall-grass prairies on Kansas’ Flint Well Hills.
- Focusing on American rivers. Salazar pointed to the Great Outdoors Colorado Amendment's successful restoration of 60 miles of the Platt River and how that made it accessible for recreation, education, and community building. He said he believes similar projects could be implemented along other rivers in the United States. Salazar chaired this project while director of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources.
- Involving young people in America’s conservation efforts. Salazar said he believes the 21st century Conservation Service Corps, which hired 21,000 young people in 2010, will help cure the rising generation’s “nature deficit disorder.” These much-needed jobs will also help young people feel invested in the conservation agenda.
Salazar said he hoped for a politically and “socially inclusive” conservation agenda in Congress.
“Conservation ought not to be a Democratic, Republican or Independent idea,” he said. “There ought not to be blue states or red states when we talk about conservation and recreation. It ought to be an American idea that unifies the country.”
- Elizabeth O. Hurst