Florida leaders highlight opportunities presented by America’s Great Outdoors Initiative

Aug 25, 2010

Widespread support for land and river protection and blueways

Orlando – The Obama Administration’s “America’s Great Outdoors” initiative comes to Orlando on August 26 in an effort to develop a conservation agenda for the 21st century. Conservation and recreation leaders across Florida are calling on the administration to prioritize land and river protection and restoration, and to launch a National Blueways Initiative.

“America’s Great Outdoors should protect our shared public lands and waters here in Florida and across the United States,” said Bob Ekey of The Wilderness Society. “Protecting, connecting and restoring our lands and waters will keep our economy and clean water flowing freely in Florida. By protecting our treasured lands, we will ensure that young people have the opportunity to reconnect with their natural heritage today and for generations to come.”

“From the Gulf Islands National Seashore to America’s Everglades, the Obama Administration must do everything in its power to protect that which sustains us, inspires us and defines us.” said Jonathan Ullman, Sierra Club Senior Organizer in South Florida. “We don’t have time to wait.”

Conservation priorities include fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), and protecting key rivers and lands with special safeguards. River protection and restoration is a focus in Florida, because the state has arguably the most extensive and popular water trail system in the nation.

“Florida is defined by water and is home to some of our nation’s premier water trails,” said Matt Rice, associate director of Southeast conservation for American Rivers. “It is the perfect place to highlight the economic, recreation and conservation benefits of water trails and blueways. The Obama Administration should prioritize the protection and restoration of our rivers and establish a National Blueways Initiative.”

According to conservation leaders, a National Blueways Initiative could boost local efforts to create blueways, like the St. Johns blue trail from Orlando to Jacksonville. A blueway is a dedicated stretch of river that enjoys special clean water safeguards and is a destination for fishing, boating and other recreation. Just as hiking trails are designed to help people explore the land, blueways help people discover rivers and other waterways. Blueways provide a fun, exciting way to get kids outdoors, link communities to treasured landscapes and are economic drivers benefiting local businesses and quality of life.

Another historic land conservation opportunity is a 4,000-acre area vital to groundwater recharge and endangered species in Southwest Florida – known as Edison Farms. The property which has been identified and sought for decades as a priority acquisition project by federal, state and local agencies, would connect to thousands of acres of already preserved lands to create contiguous landscape-level habitat and water resource protection.

“Florida is the meeting place of tropical and temperate zones, giving the state a fascinating array of wildlife, plants and wildlands," said Laurie Macdonald, Florida program director for Defenders of Wildlife. "Investing in a network of conservation and recreation lands allows us to protect essential habitat and provide an opportunity for kids and adults to connect with Florida's natural treasures.”

“National parks provide some of the best means for connecting Americans, young and old, to America’s Great Outdoors, and preserving the natural and cultural diversity of our nation,” said Kahlil Kettering, Biscayne Restoration Program Analyst for the National Parks Conservation Association. “For example, at Everglades and Biscayne National Parks, thousands of acres of sensitive wetland adjacent to the parks are threatened by development and must be better protected to ensure that future generations can breathe clean air, hear the sounds of nature, and enjoy scenic views of our beautiful state for years to come.”

The public is encouraged to attend the sessions and to provide feedback at http://www.doi.gov/americasgreatoutdoors/