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Much-needed aid to the nation’s most vital parks may soon be on the way | READER COMMENTARY

Yosemite Falls seen without people due to the park closure on April 11, 2020. The Great American Outdoors Act pending before Congress would appropriate billions of dollars to renovate and repair national parks like Yosemite.
Yosemite Falls seen without people due to the park closure on April 11, 2020. The Great American Outdoors Act pending before Congress would appropriate billions of dollars to renovate and repair national parks like Yosemite. (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

On June 17 of this year, the United States Senate passed the Great American Outdoors Act with bipartisan support. Thanks to the leadership of Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the U.S. House of Representatives could vote on it this month (”People want to use parks more than ever during the pandemic, but they get too crowded,” May 19).

The bill will address the maintenance backlog and other important issues at our national parks. For Maryland’s Latino community, however, perhaps the most notable element of the Great American Outdoors Act is the permanent funding it will provide to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a much-loved program that for more than five decades has supported parks and natural spaces in Maryland and throughout the country. Although Congress permanently reauthorized the LWCF last year, the program is subject to the Congressional appropriations cycle and is rarely fully funded.

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All Marylanders are blessed to enjoy a myriad of natural spaces that provide us with opportunities for recreation, to spend time with family and friends and to explore wildlife. But these places are especially crucial to urban communities. According to Abel Olivo of Corazon Latino, a national nonprofit that fosters stewardship of our natural resources, “the Great American Outdoors Act is vitally important to increasing equitable access of green spaces for Latinos and communities of color. More green spaces with trees in our urban areas means cooler summers and cleaner air, which directly correlates with rates of asthma and other chronic community diseases. This bill quite literally could mean life or death for some of our most vulnerable.”

Now, more than ever, these spaces, including our local parks, play an essential role in supporting our well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of this, it is imperative that we make sure they continue to be funded so that communities across our state can enjoy their benefits now and well into the future.

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Marylanders should also feel a special pride in the Great American Outdoors Act because the legislation was co-sponsored by our senators, Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen. It will be considered in the House during the work period at the end of July. We at Chispa Maryland consider its passage crucial to maintaining access to natural and open spaces, especially for urban and diverse communities. We need our representatives to vote it forward and send it to President Donald Trump’s desk to be signed into law.

Ramon Palencia-Calvo, Annapolis

The writer is deputy executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters and director of Chispa Maryland.

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