COLUMBUS, Ohio - Congress is poised to pass landmark legislation that could ensure the future protection of some of Ohio's most precious outdoor areas.
From Cuyahoga Valley National Park and Wayne National Forest to city ballparks and playgrounds, hundreds of places in Ohio have been supported by the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
The program expired in September, but the Senate last week overwhelmingly passed a permanent reauthorization as part of the Natural Resources Management Act.
Tracy Stone-Manning, vice president for public lands with the National Wildlife Federation, calls it a rare show of bipartisanship.
"In a time when our country is so divided, this one issue - the ability to bring people together around public lands, around protection of our wildlife - has punched through as something that is so uniquely and beautifully American that it has brought the Senate together, and we're hoping it does the House as well," she states.
Over the past 50 years, Ohio has received about $332 million from the program, which is funded from offshore oil and gas revenues. The House could vote on the bill as early as next week.
Ohio has a more than $24 billion outdoor recreation economy, which Garett Reppenhagen, Rocky Mountain director of the Vet Voice Foundation, contends is no doubt boosted by public lands.
"People go into the great outdoors needing to stop for gas, or using hotels or buying fishing equipment or bicycle equipment," he points out. "You know, there is a really growing outdoor economy in America, and it's a sustainable economy."
Stone-Manning says polling shows three-in-four Americans support permanent reauthorization for the program, which she maintains is needed to ensure treasured places are protected for future generations.
"Our population is growing," she states. "Need for open space and need for parks is growing with it.
"So we desperately need this program to continue so that our kids and our grandkids have the exact same access to parks and wildlife habitat that we have."
Besides permanently reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Natural Resources Management Act also includes a provision to extend the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail to include the Ohio cities of Steubenville and Marietta.