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Thousands of Montana children are packing their backpacks, tying on new shoes and heading back to school. We parents offer a sigh of relief: we survived another summer!

As we trust our top-notch crew of educators across the state with imparting upon our kids the magic of reading, science and geography — we also look to our school playgrounds, ball fields, swimming pools and running tracks to teach them how a healthy body fuels a healthy mind.

Thanks to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, Montana’s public schools have help purchasing and maintaining the fields and facilities that keep our kids healthy and learning.

You may not realize it, but the odds are the fields and playgrounds your kids enjoy every day would not be there if it weren’t for LWCF. Now that funding is in question. Let’s keep a good thing going.

In recent years, folks have heard a lot about the Land and Water Conservation Fund. For a semi-obscure, wonky-named federal program, LWCF does a heck of a lot of good work for conservation and recreation that reaches into nearly every Montanan’s daily life.

Many Montanans are aware LWCF provides funding for fishing access sites (three-quarters of Montana’s fishing access sites, to be precise), enables ranchers to keep their lands healthy, profitable and in family hands through conservation easements, and provides funding for parks and trails. But what many folks aren’t privy to is that LWCF fills those funding gaps schools wrestle with when trying to build new soccer fields, swimming pools and playgrounds.

Funding our schools, paying our hardworking educators, and maintaining and growing our facilities is always done on a shoestring budget. The Land and Water Conservation Fund invests in the next generation of Montanans by funding infrastructure projects school districts rely upon to educate students. Full, dedicated funding for LWCF will enable more schools across Montana to build ball fields, playgrounds and swimming pools.

Oodles of school districts and communities across Montana have already benefited from LWCF dollars. Billings’ Amend Park soccer fields, Bozeman’s Swim Center, Manhattan’s tennis courts, Hamilton’s softball complex, Clancy’s sports fields, Kalispell’s playgrounds, Shelby’s sports complex and Anaconda’s “Smelter City Skatepark” are just a sampling. From more urban communities to rural, small-town Montana — LWCF has had a hand in keeping our kids healthy, safe, and engaged.

Both of Montana’s senators — Jon Tester and Steve Daines — champion Senate legislation that would fully fund LWCF. They have seen how investing in conservation and recreation across the state bolsters Main Street, Montana, ensures wildlife habitat, keeps our forests healthy and protects generational ranches. And both Tester and Daines support the school playgrounds, ball fields, swimming pools and running tracks that teach our children about leadership, working as a team, dedication and a healthy lifestyle.

For some reason, U.S. Congressman Greg Gianforte has not yet publicly supported legislation that would provide LWCF with full, dedicated funding. There is still time. Congressman Gianforte, please support H.R. 3195, which is a companion bill to proposed legislation in the Senate that would take the funding uncertainty out of America’s most successful conservation and recreation program. Please join the rest of Montana’s delegation in advocating for Montana’s fishing access sites, public lands, playgrounds and ball fields.

As parents, we dedicate our lives to growing the next generation. There aren’t many issues and legislation in our federal government that unites more than they divide. The Land and Water Conservation Fund is one such issue, and has lasting impacts to Montana’s future generations. It’s time to fund LWCF.

Becky Edwards is director of the Mountain Mamas, and lives in Bozeman with her husband and three daughters.

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