Army officer training was grueling, isolating, and seemingly never-ending. Morning reveille always came too early and evening taps always too late. Still, I was learning how to lead soldiers in service to my country and for that I was grateful, and I was doing all this in one of the most gorgeous parts of the country - the Pacific Northwest.
After my time in the Army I moved back to Aurora and joined the Illinois National guard. I brought back with me a love of the great outdoors. Now my time in public lands is quieter and more relaxing, hiking with my two daughters or bird-watching in a newly discovered corner of this country.
My ability to do both is reliant on having access to public lands and that access is at risk as authorization for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a bipartisan program founded in 1964 to protect some of this country’s most vital resources, expired at the end of September.
I have visited almost every national park, spending hours watching birds, searching for the rare glimpse of Kirtland’s Warbler or Piping Plover. I’ve felt the effects of public lands on myself and I’ve seen it in other veterans. As the chair of the Women’s Veterans Affairs, I’ve heard countless stories of service members turning to public lands to reconnect, recharge, and recenter.
But the LWCF doesn’t just protect national parks and systems. It helps build communities through a series of public spaces. Since its inception, LWCF has granted $213 million to projects in Illinois, including over 50 grants in Kane Country alone. When I can’t travel to a major national park, I can hike or birdwatch in the Hannaford Woods Forest Preserve or along the Illinois Prairie Path, both supported by LWCF grants.
The impact of LWCF is just one of the reasons I joined 70 other veterans and elected officials in signing a bipartisan letter to Secretary Zinke, urging him to support reauthorization of the LWCF.
Unfortunately, the last Congress let the LWCF expire. This is why I call on all my fellow citizens to contact their legislators and demand that they make reauthorizing the LWCF a top priority for the new Congress.
Senator Durbin and Senator Duckworth have been supporters of LWCF in the past, and it’s imperative that they continue to fight for fully dedicated funding and permanent reauthorization of LWCF.
As an officer in the Army, access to public lands was critical in my training. As a bird watcher I see those same protected lands as critical to the wildlife ecosystem of our nation. As a mother and an elected officer, it’s imperative that we protect these public lands for my children and the children of all citizens and the next generation of outdoor lovers.
Linda Chapa LaVia
Linda Chapa LaVia is a member of the Illinois House of Representatives, representing the 83rd District since 2003. The district covers part of Kane County, including the city of Aurora.