This past week, our senior conservation staff have had their hiking boots on, but not for a jaunt along the Appalachian Trail (A.T.). Instead, we were in DC for the annual advocacy event “Hike the Hill,” along with many other national scenic and historic trail representatives from across the country, for nearly a week of organized meetings with agency and Congressional representatives.
That many meetings may sound boring, but it was a whirlwind! With about 60 visits scheduled, staff members Morgan Sommerville, Karen Lutz and Hawk Metheny, along with myself, Laura Belleville, and Executive Director Ron Tipton, were busy dashing from the U.S. Forest Service buildings to the National Park Service and back and forth between House and Senate visits. Our charge? To keep the A.T. on everyone’s radar and ensure that high-priority land protection projects are supported. We were also plugging re-authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and full annual funding—or $900 million total per year—of that program.
(A bit of backstory: The LWCF puts a portion of offshore drilling fees toward the protection of land and water, with money being intended for national parks, national forests, wildlife refuges and more. And although money is deposited into the LWCF account annually, part of the funds are diverted elsewhere each year—meaning all of that money is not being used for its intended conservation and recreation purposes. Learn more about the LWFC here.)
Our experience at Hike the Hill was a bit unusual this year because the President’s budget was released before our meetings, meaning we knew beforehand which of our A.T. parcels made the budget and how they were ranked. While we have fared better in previous years, we did have several projects in Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina that have been ranked high enough in the President’s budget to likely receive funding through appropriations. A Forest Legacy project in Virginia that we have supported was also included in the budget, but not ranked as well as we had hoped. This was the first year this project was submitted and, like many projects, it may take a couple of submissions to rank high enough to make the appropriations cut.
We also learned that another smaller project in Virginia will be funded by the U.S. Forest Service with funds set aside to acquire inholdings. Of course, if there is full funding of LWCF, the A.T. benefits even more. We did have projects in New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania that did not make the cut this year—so we are re-doubling our efforts and will continue to work with agencies and Congress to highlight the importance of these priority acquisitions.
I want to shout out appreciation to Senator Richard Burr and Senators Kelly Ayotte and Michael Bennet for their leadership to sponsor and co-sponsor a new bill aimed at re-authorizing LWCF and providing full funding. (We expect that bill to be released in the next week or so.) I had the privilege to meet with Senator Ayotte yesterday and to thank her personally for her support. She is a very strong supporter of the A.T. and public lands in New Hampshire.
How can you help us advocate for full funding of the LWCF? Please let your senators know how important this legislation is and to vote for it!