When I left the Marine Corps, I jumped at my chance to fulfill a dream to live in Colorado. All my life I've been an outdoorsman and was drawn to the outdoor recreation mecca that is Colorado. I've settled in Littleton on the Front Range and when I'm not working, I'm backpacking, fly-fishing, and mountain biking. Unparalleled outdoor access is what makes Colorado special, and it draws millions of tourists to its public lands each year, as well as new residents like me. Thus, our public lands access is not only a great quality-of-life provider, it is a huge economic generator.
Before I moved to Colorado, I had never heard of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. However, as I've spent more time thinking about the importance of preserving our public lands, I've learned about this critical program. The Land and Water Conservation Fund has provided funding for land and water conservation projects and recreational infrastructure and activities across the country for a half-century. I suspect other Americans may not know of the fund, but what I do know is that all Americans have benefited from this amazing program. It has been used to protect places from national parks to local ballfields in every state since its inception in 1964. It's a huge part of the outdoor recreation economy in Colorado and nationally - and it's at risk of disappearing.
If Congress does not act, the Land and Water Conservation Fund will expire this fall. Our Colorado delegation in Congress must work to ensure that it gets reauthorized, for it has protected some of Colorado's most iconic places. The funding has helped protect Rocky Mountain National Park, national forests near Denver like Arapahoe and Roosevelt, and wild places like Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. It's also been used to protect two iconic local parks on the Front Range that I love - Garden of the Gods and Cheyenne Mountain State Park.
It's a program that has been effective since its inception in 1964, supported by budgets from bipartisan presidents and used by members of Congress from across the political spectrum. To let it expire when it has done so much for our communities without spending a cent of taxpayers' money would be a travesty.
The person overseeing how Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars are spent (and requested) is Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke. He is a veteran and a self-described outdoorsman. Since Zinke has been in office, his proposed budgets for the Department of the Interior have called for enormous cuts to the Land and Water Conservation Fund. I am severely disappointed that Zinke has failed to champion this program, a cornerstone of America's conservation policy.
In addition to the proposed cuts in the federal budget, the Land and Water Conservation Fund will expire in the fall if Congress fails to reauthorize it. I urge that Congress to reauthorize this important program is passed before September and call upon our Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner, as well as my Congressman Mike Coffman, to pass legislation that reauthorizes it. The Land and Water Conservation Fund has been helping veterans and all Americans find joy in the outdoors for half a century.
As a veteran of the Marine Corps, I've had the opportunity to see a lot of our country. I've also been deployed to Central America, and through my travels with the Marines, I've learned how important it is for everyone to have outdoor access. As I reflect this Memorial Day, I think of all those that served our country proudly, defending our many freedoms. Americans' ownership of our public lands is unique and something I'm proud of, and I feel that its imperative that we treasure and preserve our right to be able to enjoy our outdoors, from local playgrounds to majestic national parks.
This is why I feel it is my duty to support the Land and Water Conservation Fund because I understand how it has helped communities across the country and I want to help get the message out about the program's importance so that other American citizens can advocate for its protection.
Those who care about our public lands must share their support for the Land and Water Conservation Fund so that our elected officials in Washington, D.C., work to ensure that the program is preserved for the benefit of future generations.
Danny Clynes commissioned in the Marine Corps in 2012 after attending Virginia Military Institute. As a combat engineer officer, Clynes spent time throughout the United States and abroad in Central America working on infrastructure and construction projects. He lives in Littleton.