It’s not just any day, it’s Earth Day!
By TIM HERD
Environmental health and sustainability is a growing priority for communities everywhere. A recent poll conducted by the National Recreation and Park Association found that most Americans want their governments to prioritize sustainable environmental practices in such things as water quality monitoring, green space assessment, urban planning, eco-friendly buildings and lawn upkeep.
The overwhelming majority (83 percent) of Americans polled agree that local governments must prioritize environmental initiatives. This is particularly true of Millennials who say it’s either “extremely important” or “very important.” Both families with children (89 percent) and non-parents (79 percent) feel strongly about local government prioritizing funding for environmental initiatives.
While many environmental stewardship choices continue to be made on the consumer level, governments have an essential, leading role in prioritizing sustainable practices. And funding those priorities is the difference-maker in improving our environmental health and sustainability.”
Park and recreation agencies are leaders in promoting the protection of our environment, embracing practices that include conservation of public land, protection of wildlife habitats, and the use of green infrastructure. Yet the lack of adequate funding resources substantially hinders the progress of most agencies.
At the state level, the Pennsylvania General Assembly will soon have an opportunity to both prioritize and fund a Growing Greener 3 program by investing more than $300 million annually for conservation, recreation and preservation projects.
The need is clear
More than 19,000 miles of Pennsylvania streams and rivers are not safe for drinking or recreational use and cannot support aquatic life.
The majority of the state’s 6,000 local parks and more than 11,000 miles of trails need significant upgrades to remain safe, clean and ready-to-use.
Abandoned mines scar 189,000 acres in 43 of our 67 counties, causing 5,500 miles of dead streams.
Some 1500 family farms remain on a waiting list to be protected and preserved.
The rationale is inclusive
Preserving and protecting the environment is not for tree-huggers only, but for everyone who values personal health and a prosperous society.
Protecting our land, wildlife and heritage of abundant and clean natural resources strengthens the entire economy and supports thousands of jobs. The recreation industry alone accounts for $6.4 billion of tourism spending in the state. For every dollar invested in our state parks, $12 is generated in economic benefits for the surrounding communities.
Access to well-maintained parks, trails and open space is good for our physical and mental health and is proven to reduce healthcare costs by encouraging exercise and other healthy lifestyle choices.
The support is extensive
A 2014 Penn State University poll found that 97 percent of Pennsylvanians think that state funds dedicated to preserving open space and farmland, providing parks and trails, and protecting rivers and streams should continue to be used for these purposes. Furthermore, 82 percent of survey respondents support increasing state funds for these purposes even if that would cost the average household $10 more annually.
Today’s convergence of indisputable reason and popular acclaim make this Earth Day and every day the right time to renew our resolve and prioritize our future for environmental health and sustainability.
Urge your Pennsylvania legislators to support Growing Greener. For more information, or to get involved, visit GrowingGreener3.org.
Tim Herd is a certified park and recreation executive and the CEO of the State College-based Pennsylvania Recreation and Park Society.