July is recognized as National Parks and Recreation Month, a time to get outside and enjoy one or more of the 473 national parks, trails, and rivers across the country. I am proud to serve as the Ranking Member on the Interior and Environment Committee that provides funding for the nation’s public lands, from Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming to the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Apart from the 22 national parks in the Commonwealth, Northern Virginia is home to a wealth of outdoor recreation, including the Washington & Old Dominion trail. The brainchild of Falls Church resident and founding member of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, Walter L. Mess, the W&OD trail began in 1974 as a three mile paved trail. Today, W&OD is a 45-mile thoroughfare hosting two million runners, hikers, and cyclists.
While we currently have a number of outdoor recreation opportunities, urbanization in Northern Virginia is spurring greater public demand for more open space and better access to public lands. It is a challenge facing many communities across the United States. Nearly 80 percent of Americans live near a metropolitan area today, and according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, metropolitan areas can anticipate an additional 84 million people over the next three decades. Our growing demand to experience the natural world; be it for quiet contemplation or for rigorous exercise, or something in between, means we need to ensure these lands will be available and accessible and closer to where we live and work.
To further a discussion of improving access to parks and outdoor recreation in the area, I hosted a roundtable discussion this summer with local business owners, and representatives from local and national organizations.
During our conversation, the group touched on economic opportunities that come with outdoor recreation. In Virginia alone, the Outdoor Industry generates $13.6 billion in consumer spending, supports more than 138,000 direct jobs, produces more than $3.9 million in wages and salaries and contributes approximately $923 million in state and local tax revenue.
But to yield and even grow these economic benefits, our parks must be maintained, a task that is growing more difficult in an era of budget cuts. Unfortunately, under the leadership of House Republicans, funding for even the basic operations of the federal land management agencies, the Forest Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the National Park Service, are in jeopardy.
We are already seeing the negative impact of these cuts on our public land parks. Locally, seasonal park rangers have not been hired, visiting hours to Arlington House and Antietam National Battlefield Park have been shortened, and the position of refuge manager at Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge has been left unfilled.
Slashing funds for our national parks limits economic growth and diminishes the experience of the millions of Americans who visit these great places and cherish their historic, cultural, and natural treasures. Continuing to improve and expand our outdoor spaces and landmarks will not only benefit the health and well-being of those who use them, but would also boost our local economy.