Op-ed: How the shutdown affects America's great outdoors

Denali National Park, Alaska

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By Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society

All eyes are on Washington, D.C. as we wait for the government shutdown to end. Yet the situation is having negative impacts well beyond D.C., from people not being paid, to social services stalled, to what has become the face of the government shutdown: our wild public lands such as national monuments, parks and wildlife refuges closed for business.

It is no wonder our wild places have become the symbol of the shutdown. America is known around the world for our lands and waters. Indeed, people come from near and far to visit the Grand Canyon, the Great Smoky Mountains, and the Redwood Forests. America's great outdoors are known and loved around the world, and people rightly expect them to be open for business.

Shutting down our wild public lands denies Americans the right to explore and play outside in these places. It also negatively impacts the local businesses that depend on the visitors who spend their dollars at nature's playground. The tourism and recreation industry - " ranging from outdoor gear stores and rafting companies to hotels and restaurants - " directly benefits from having our lands and waters up and running.

So, while our government is closed, local businesses are missing out. Outdoor recreation brings in $646 billion in consumer spending every year and puts 6.1 million people to work. Gateway communities for national parks are losing an estimated $30 million every day that the government stays shuttered.

We know that Congress will get its act together. When it does, our wild places will be re-opened. But will everything be fixed?

Sadly, no.

Long before the shutdown, Congress has been cutting funding that is needed to care for our great outdoors. The result has been a loss of jobs, trails and campgrounds being closed, and fewer visitor services for the millions of people who enjoy our public lands and waters every year.

I, like you, have been listening to members of Congress talk about re-opening these special places, and could not agree more. America's wild public lands are part of what make our country great, and they are a unique shared resource that belongs to all of us. The shutdown has highlighted the fact that we as Americans value our public lands for outdoor recreation opportunities and the positive economic impact our lands and waters have on the nation.

Once the gates to our national monuments, parks and wildlife refuges, and facilities in our forests and wilderness areas are re-opened, Congress must restore funding for conservation programs at levels that will provide the experience that people expect when they visit our national treasures. Our nation's spectacular wild places, and the people who visit them, deserve nothing less.

Op-ed originally published in Politix.

President Jamie Williams joined The Wilderness Society in 2012. Jamie leads The Wilderness Society in its mission to inspire Americans to care for our wild places. Follow him on Twitter at @JWilliamsTWS.

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