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A new habit: The great American outdoor experience
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A new habit: The great American outdoor experience

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Researchers say it takes 21 days to develop new habits. In that time, we’ve seen bewildering changes in our communities and around the world. What habits have we formed and which will endure?

Despite the travel bans, quarantines, isolation and tragedy -- and the roller coaster of emotions that follow, we’re seeing firsthand the exponential value of nature in her simplest forms. In the last 21 days, I’ve seen many new faces on the Helena trails and at Tenmile Creek Park. While 6 feet apart, we are connecting with a common experience of the power of Nature and the emotional, mental, and physical healing she provides. Listening to a creek, the smell after a rainstorm, feeling the sun on your face and the dirt under our feet on a mountain trail, these are all experiences that bring us together even when we’re apart.

Nature is also healing herself while the world presses “pause.” We are seeing a clearer picture of our role in the natural systems that provide clean air, water and habitable space. Still, statewide our outdoor resources are seeing unprecedented use -- especially lands and trails close to cities and towns. This is a fortunate dilemma, we’re lucky to have elbow room and I am grateful for Governor Bullock demonstrating leadership and including outdoor activity in his executive orders.

But our solace isn’t free. What the public may not know is that behind the scenes, the land trust community and public land managers work hard to assemble public and private funding for our annual work and project budgets. We do not have sufficient or consistent funding to ensure protection of key wildlife, public access to streams, and public land or trail additions. Not to mention funding for maintaining those outdoor assets in the face of unprecedented demand currently, and undoubtedly in the future. The Great American Outdoors Act would finally fix that, with full, dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

When our leaders in Congress established LWCF 56 years ago, little did they know that their bipartisan commitment to safeguarding our natural areas would be one of the constants for their children and grandchildren in a COVID-19 reality. From Glacier and Yellowstone National parks to eastern Montana, our pristine outdoors feed our souls but they also drive this state’s economy. LWCF delivers pristine wildlife habitat and urban parks alike. It bridges rural urban divides, and Montana’s future economic and physical well-being depends on it; because our outdoor places fuel commerce for our Main Street businesses and large enterprises alike.

In the last 21 days, we’ve developed new habits, and a habit that I hope endures is a deeper commitment to protecting and investing in our public lands. We need nature now more than ever. Our leaders in Congress view our future from the shoulders of those who enacted LWCF in 1964.

Today, as Congress works toward passing another COVID-19 package, they have the opportunity to pass the Great American Outdoors Act to fully fund LWCF, take care of the lands we love, and make smart investments in natural infrastructure that fuels our economy. Those investments will pay dividends for our natural systems -- and the generations who inhabit them -- forever.

Mary Hollow is the executive director of Prickly Pear Land Trust.

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