While when you think of the words “public lands,” “wilderness”, and the “great outdoors”- images of grand landscapes, romantic ideas of old-timey family photos in front of giant stone formations, or someone on Instagram living out of a van enjoying a quiet sunset with their dog rambling around the wilderness around them, enjoying a beer, taking it all in. Maybe you think of Zion, Arches, Redwoods, Acadia.
But what is the last natural place you’ve visited? The last trail you’ve been on, the mountain you’ve climbed?
It probably wasn’t something you had to fly many miles to get to, months planning around, or investing a lot of time, energy, and thought to get you there. It was most likely a place a little more accessible, something out your backdoor. Maybe a local or state park?
I am privileged to live in the Adirondacks, which is the largest park in the contiguous United States. I work for the Adirondack Council, an advocacy organization that fights to preserve the clean water, air, and wildlands of our Park.
I try my hardest to get a weekly dose of nature, and I’m sure you might too. And for me, that happens not in a national park, but in my state park. While there are many reasons to advocate for our most famous national landscapes, our state parks are important to fight for. To protect as wild places for us all to enjoy, but also to provide safe havens for wildlife, to act as filters for clean water and air, a sponge for CO2 to slow climate change- a place for trees, wildflowers, and nature to thrive.
Why Advocating for our State Parks is Important
- More people use state lands- 792 million people visit state lands each year, while only 331 million people visit National Parks, and 148 million people visit US Forests each year. Advocating for state lands means advocating for your fellow state land users and the wildlife that live there, the clean water and air that filters through the forests, and the many other benefits they bring.
- State lands add up– It’s estimated there are 8,565 state park areas comprising 18,694,570 acres across the U.S. While many of the greatest National Parks and Forests are some of the most famous landscapes, state parks cover millions of acres of land in the United States. The Adirondack Park, for example, covers one-fifth of New York State and is nearly three times the size of Yellowstone National Park.
- Opportunity to impact change- With more and more public land rights being stripped away at a federal level, leaders at state and local levels may be more willing to preserve our precious wild places for future generations. And while the Trump Administration strips away the rights from federal lands, we can and should continue to grow locally protected wilderness areas and opportunities for everyone to enjoy them.
HOW to Advocate for your Parks & Environmental Protection at the State Level
- Join a local/state advocacy organization- They will have the best understanding of local environmental issues and problems facing your state parks. Donate, attend meetups or events, sign up to learn more about advocacy opportunities, etc.
- Know what’s in your state budget (and what’s not)- The success and well-being of your state parks are determined by the funding allocated to the staffing, programs, and support that makes sustaining those wildlands possible. Learn how legislators determine how to include specific programs in a state budget, and how you can help advocate for your public lands and environmental protection programs on a state level.
- Engage in public comment opportunities– When a budget, policy, or law is changed or created, your state is required to offer a public comment opportunity. This is your chance to make your voice heard. Sign up for email notifications for public comment opportunities from your state.
- Make sure your Representatives know what is important to you- It’s their responsibility to represent the values of their constituents. Attend their coffee hours and events that are opportunities for public engagement. Respond to their questions and posts on social media and tag them in thoughtful posts of your own.
By advocating for your local wildlands and participating in the process on a state level, you’re making sure your representatives and people who can create change in your community know what important issues are facing our generation.
While traveling to knock on doors in Washington DC isn’t something that everyone feels like they can do, we can all help protect our wild places by showing up and participating in the opportunities for public engagement in state-level decision-making that impacts the mountains, lakes, and wild places we love.
- State of the Adirondack Park Report: Guide for legislative, state, and local decisions in 2019, and environmental priorities for 2020 from the Adirondack Council.
- Patagonia Action Works– Find petitions, letter-writing opportunities, local organizations to join and support
- New York State– find your elected official
NOTE: THIS IS A LIVING RESOURCE! As with all resources on Outdoor Advocacy Project, there is always room to continue the conversation, add a new perspective, bolster the resources, and share new findings. Got something you want to add, change, challenge or amplify? Let us know in the comments, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to write your own.