Conservation Voices: Healthy Public Lands for Healthy Families
By Congresswoman Kim Schrier, M.D.
My family treasures the time we spend together hiking and fishing in the Great Outdoors. I am honored to represent the 8th Congressional District which includes the I-90 corridor, Mountains to Sound Greenway, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Mt. Rainier National Park, and many of the most popular and accessible trails in the state.
As a mother and pediatrician living in the Pacific Northwest, I recognize how beneficial access to public lands is for a person’s mental and physical well-being. Ensuring access to the outdoors in now more important than ever as we search for safe ways to recreate and exercise, and new ways to teach our children. Parks and nature promote physical activity and play, which can be key to long-term mental and physical health. Being outdoors allows children to feel less isolated, even if that time spent outdoors does not include socializing with others. Time spent outdoors in nature reduces stressors, supports positive development, and increases resiliency. With most childcare and school facilities still closed, and with increasing rates of anxiety, depression, and obesity in our children during this pandemic, safe access to the outdoors is more important than ever to promote healthy physical activity and provide a respite from excessive screen time. And, with our children learning at home, let’s not forget the incredible science lessons nature provides. Just take a sketch pad and a magnifying glass with you and engage those powers of observation and wonder!
We’re so lucky to live in a state with such a bounty of public lands and parks to explore and enjoy. Consider this: Of the top 25 most populous cities in America, Seattle is surrounded by vastly more wilderness than any other. In fact, there are 3.6 million acres of designated Wilderness within a 100-mile radius of Seattle. Next best is Phoenix, Arizona, which doesn’t even come close with 1.4 million acres. Our access to the great outdoors is why so many of us choose to live, work, and play here in the Evergreen State. And it is why we are so grateful to Washington Wild and other organizations that champion careful stewardship and access to our public lands and waters.
As a pediatrician, I want children outside in nature, playing, breathing fresh air, and learning about our natural world. It is the perfect antidote to screen time. There are well-established physical and mental health benefits to spending time in the great outdoors. Along those lines, last year I joined REI and area Veterans for a hike in North Bend. We discussed the sense of respite and solitude that nature offers, and how it can augment therapy for Veterans and others coping with PTSD or other challenges.
In Congress I have been working hard to ensure that Washington’s parks and forests will still be here for future generations. I was thrilled to vote for the Great American Outdoors Act, now law, that commits $900 million a year for land conservation and a one-time $9.5 billion boost to address maintenance needs at national parks. In the 8th district, the Issaquah Creek headwaters, Mt. Rainier National Park, the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, and the rivers that flow through the Cascades and into Wenatchee are all examples of public lands that the Land and Water Conservation Fund has helped to preserve. Our state will receive hundreds of millions of dollars over the next decade under the program. This is one of the most significant pieces of conservation legislation in decades.
I’m also partnering with Congressman Derek Kilmer and organizations like Washington Wild to permanently authorize the Legacy Roads and Trails (H.R.7273) program under the US Forest Service. Today, the Forest Service has a deferred maintenance backlog of more than $5.2 billion. That includes about 370,000 miles of road, 158,000 miles of trails, and 13,000 bridges in disrepair. When roads are not adequately maintained, culverts become clogged with debris, landslides occur, bridges weaken, and roads wash out. Large amounts of sediment can end up in mountain streams, suffocating fish and burying stream channels. This program ensures dedicated funding to key areas where projects improve upstream and downstream connections for fish, improve water quality, and ensure road and trail resilience in a changing climate. It’s a simple solution to a formidable problem.
Our parks, forests, and public lands belong to all of us. It is incumbent upon all of us to protect our public lands and ensure that people of every background can access these areas. Let’s make sure these areas are still around to be enjoyed many years from now.
I hope to see you out on the trails soon (from a distance!).