“America’s Great Outdoors” Initiative: How It Can Improve Recreation Opportunities in PW County

Sure, you have the desire to tell the Federal government what it should be doing.  You want to give the politicians and bureaucrats a piece of your mind – but you’d like to think someone was listening, right?

Now is a rare moment when that might happen.  The Obama Administration is developing its policies and action plans for conservation, land stewardship, environmental education and efforts to reconnect Americans to the outdoors.  The model is Theodore Roosevelt, and how his administration made a lasting impact on conservation and recreation for later generations.

Naturally, the lobbyists for the recreation industry (campground operators, concessioners in national parks, builders of RV’s, etc.) are deeply involved in shaping how the National Park Service, US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and even the Commerce Department can enhance the commercial side of tourism.

However, the White House Conference on America’s Great Outdoors also triggered a memo from the President on A 21st Century Strategy for America’s Great Outdoors.  It included direction to key Federal officials to promote “community-based recreation and conservation, including local parks, greenways, beaches, and waterways.”

Right here in Prince William County, there’s an excellent opportunity for the Federal government to go beyond the usual blather and take action, at almost no cost to the taxpayers: allow the public to visit Featherstone National Wildlife Refuge.

After 40 years of posting “Public Land – Keep Out” signs on the boundaries, it’s time for the US Fish and Wildlife Service to allow the public to visit the Featherstone refuge on the Potomac River, just downstream from Washington, DC.

The Federal officials who recently completed the Strategy for Protecting and Restoring the Chesapeake Bay Watershed recognize that the general public will get more engaged in protecting places that they can experience, in person. The vision in that strategy is “A Chesapeake watershed with ample access to provide for public enjoyment.”

Blocking public access to land already owned by the Federal government, with a mile of Potomac River water access, is counterproductive. Wildlife-dependent recreation is appropriate for the 325 acres of tidal marsh and riparian wetlands with mature oaks, tulip poplars and red maples.

The dramatic population growth in Northern Virginia has made it even more critical to connect people to nature. If no one but Federal biologists are aware of the natural assets, don’t be surprised if local officials propose developing the refuge site for commuter ferry landings, school bus parking lots, or other inappropriate uses.

People protect what they know and understand.  Featherstone National Wildlife Refuge would have more local support, and the risk of inappropriate development would be reduced, if the general public could enjoy visiting the refuge.

 

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