Dear Iowa's Legislators: Keep Park and Trail Funding Status Quo

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted pretty much everything, including the state's legislative session. Having recently reconvened for a couple-week blitz of a session, I figured it was a good time to remind those working under the golden dome just how important parks and trails are, especially now. Typically, when budgets are looking at tough times, the first thing to get the axe are quality of life programs such as park, trail and recreation funding. But in light of the incredible increase we've seen in the use of such places, cutting that funding is, I feel, an even more terrible idea than usual.

What happens inside this building affects parks and natural resources more than you or I could ever hope to individually.

So today I sent the following letter to my state legislators. I'm going to also send one to the Governor.  Feel free to draft a letter of your own - copy and paste parts of this one if you want - and join me in asking for little more than just maintaining status quo for now.

Find your legislators here.

Dear [Rep./Sen. ____]

I'm sure things are chaotic with the session resuming and all the impending deadlines but I wanted to take a minute to let you know just how busy our parks and trails have been amid this pandemic. To put it succinctly, I've never seen this much activity in our parks, nor has any of my staff. It's not uncommon to have 35 vehicles parked at Starr's Cave Nature Center in the middle of a weekday afternoon with people out enjoying the trails. There's not a day that goes by that I don't see people using the Flint River Trail out near my house. Employees at Dick's Sporting Goods tell us they can't keep kayaks in stock due to the number of people buying them to take them out on Big Hollow Lake and elsewhere in the area. They sold 35 kayaks in 48 hours two weekends ago. One of my board members counted 75 paddlers on the lake one afternoon, and that's just what he could see from where he was standing on the shore. The campground at Big Hollow has been full to capacity every weekend since we reopened last month and we hit capacity two weekends in a row (Memorial Day and the weekend after) at the 4th Pumping Station campground near Oakville - something we've never had happen before.

(I wrote a bit about this in my recent column in the Hawk Eye.)

I bring this up to point out that as we navigate social isolation and all the societal ills that come from the pandemic, parks have proven to be critical social infrastructure. People stuck at home are able to get out and recreate, exercise, and be together while maintaining proper distance thanks to parks. The physical and mental health benefits parks provide, especially in these trying times, are immeasurable.
So as you consider budgets going forward, I ask nothing more than for you to simply maintain status quo on REAP ($12M) and trail funding ($1.5M). I also ask that you extend the REAP sunset so the program remains viable beyond its 2021 expiration. In the entire budget picture, these are modest investments. But to the thousands of people (literally) that rely on the parks and trails those programs create, such investments are priceless. So please, don't stand for any substantive cuts to these, or any quality of life programs. We need them now more than ever.

Thanks for all you do for our state and our little corner of it.

Chris Lee