Op-ed: Conservation Fund benefits our state

Preserving North Carolina’s precious landmarks and landscapes is one of the most important promises we can keep for our future and the Land and Water Conservation Fund helps us make good on those promises. Each year in North Carolina, this fund helps local communities preserve land for small-scale parks and ballfields, as well as grander plans like the recent addition of 70 acres to the Pilot Mountain site.

Unfortunately, this year saw the expiration of this fund, and many in Congress were willing to look the other direction while money drained away that’s typically used to make small towns and cities better.

But not me. I used every legislative tool available to ensure this well-loved fund continues and I’m proud when I see my hard work manifest itself in important plans like the Pilot Mountain enhancement.

With Pilot Mountain set to gain 70 acres in 2016, this means that there will be greater access to one of the state’s most treasured monuments. Many in North Carolina have applauded the new addition and noted that these types of ventures maintain our commitment to conservation. And perhaps most importantly, the conservation fund doesn’t take a dime of taxpayer money. LWCF is funded by royalties and is an investment in the future of our nation’s scenic treasures and does not add to the nation’s debt.

Nationally, this fund has created outdoor recreation opportunities in every state and 98 percent of counties across the country.

The fund has protected critical lands in national parks, wildlife refuges, national forests, and Civil War battlefields, among others. For 50 years, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has been a success financially and has given much back to our local communities.

In North Carolina, outdoor recreation contributes $7.5 billion to the state’s economy and supports 95,000 jobs. Let’s review a few of the significant gains the LWCF has helped facilitate for conservation in North Carolina.

For North Carolina alone, many spectacular sites, like the Pisgah National Forest and Blue Ridge Parkway, were completed with LWCF funds.

Catawba Falls was acquired in 2010 through the LWCF and has made this popular waterfall open to the public. The 88 acres were purchased from Foothills Conservancy of NC to open up long-sought public trail access to Catawba Falls, which was added to Pisgah National Forest in 1989, also thanks to LWCF.

The Nature Conservancy recently transferred 536 acres in parts of Buncombe, Henderson and Rutherford counties to the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation, and will add them to Chimney Rock State Park.

I’ve pledged to continue fighting for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and will fight another round in 2016. I want to make sure that the LWCF can fully realize its promise to conserve parks, open spaces and wildlife habitat for the benefit of hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation for future generations.

Richard Burr (R-NC) is the senior senator from North Carolina.

This op-ed was published by the Greensboro News & Record.