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Jill Sanford | 05.30.2018

As spring slips slowly into summer in the state, Californians are getting outside. Trail runners break in new shoes, mountain bikers ride trails still damp from recent rainfall, hikers train for peak bagging, paddlers are flocking to waterways across the state…

And conservation and recreation groups are educating voters on an unprecedented parks and water bond that would invest $4 billion in open space, natural resources, and clean drinking water.

California Proposition 68 is noteworthy not just for the Golden State, but for conservationists everywhere who watch in anticipation as California’s primary election date of June 5, 2018, draws closer. If it passes, the bill would allocate money to protect critical watersheds for the state, mitigate wildfire risks, invest in state and local park infrastructure, and build more parks specifically in “park-poor” communities.

It’s an investment like no other in a state that is particularly susceptible to symptoms of climate change such as wildfire, drought, and severe flooding.

“The funding covers a range of activities, from land conservation and land management to watershed health and drinking water quality to fire risk reduction and forest health,” says Kerri Timmer, vice president of climate and energy at the Sierra Business Council, a leading advocate for more funding in California’s more rural, mountainous regions. “Embedded within all of that is, of course, the recreation opportunities that will either be protected or enhanced.”

California faces a diverse array of public land challenges: Severe droughts, decreased snowpack, extreme wildfire risk, resource-rich and underfunded rural areas, large agricultural areas that supply a quarter of the country’s food supply, and many urban, underserved communities without access to open space are just a few examples. Land managers in California have struggled with serving the needs of every area and demographic in the state.

Proposition 68 is an investment in California’s recreational opportunities from the high sierra to the inner city. The bond measure promotes natural resource management, which primarily is located in the Sierra Nevada and southern Cascade mountain ranges but it also allocates a large amount of funding to ensure that all Californians, regardless of their zip code, have access to the outdoors.

Of the total, $725 million of Prop 68 funding is allocated specifically for building new parks in communities that have been traditionally, and purposefully, excluded from the outdoors. Many neighborhoods throughout California don’t have access to parks or open areas. Prop 68 will change that by freeing up the funding for urban and other conservation groups to put a park within walking distance of every child in every community in California.

“The outdoors are for all people,” says Naz Ahmed, REI’s outdoor programs and outreach manager for the Sierra Region. “Regardless of where they are economically and what backgrounds they have. Providing money to local communities and governments that will improve access or parks for those individuals, is definitely in line with [REI’s] values.”

Several outdoor industry leaders, such as REI, the Outdoor Industry Association, Adventure 16, Tahoe Mountain Sports, and the Trust for Public Land have endorsed the proposition and are encouraging the rest of the outdoor community to come out in support of this important measure on June 5.

The unique structure of the legislation means that nearly everyone in California who works on behalf of the environment, promotes social justice issues, improves opportunities for recreation and access, or simply relies on clean water and a healthy environment has something to gain through Prop 68. The win-win nature of the bill means that unprecedented collaboration between different interest groups throughout the state is now underway.

Conservation groups, youth organizations, public land advocates, recreation professionals, and the broader outdoor community are all coming together in support of this bond measure, which hopefully will create a ripple effect for other state and local governments throughout the country to take public land matters into their own hands.

“What happens in California can be replicated throughout the rest of the country,” says Dave Polivy, owner of Tahoe Mountain Sports and Tahoe Backcountry Alliance board member. “Creating uses, creating infrastructure, creating opportunities—that will dovetail out to the rest of the country, especially as it relates to cooperation with federal entities.”

To learn more about what the bond measure will mean for California, you can read more about the measure here.


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