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HeatherTempleton1As a mom, it is so important to me that my kids get outside and play. When I was growing up, we lived outdoors, riding our bikes, playing kick the can, building forts in the woods. Whether at a local park or in our backyards we were outside. Our imagination -- and our feet -- ran wild, no matter the season or weather. Some of my best memories are being in our nearby parks in Maryland ice skating in the winter, swimming, hiking and sharing a picnic at Cunningham Falls in the summer. This was my childhood and I can say that because of my past, my desire for the future is to continue to share these experiences with my own children, so they grow up understanding the importance of the great outdoors.

Unfortunately today, too many kids live far from safe parks and playgrounds. Too many schools have been forced to reduce or cut gym class or after-school sports programs altogether. With that said, childhood obesity and resulting dieases are increasing dramatically. Games are learned on “Apps” on iPads and on Xbox’s instead of out in the fresh air. Our children are missing out on the chance to day-dream, make new friends on the soccer field, and enjoy the benefits of exploring and learning to be stewards of our land, taking ownership of the nature around them. The importance of keeping our neighborhood, regional and national parks, open, safe and available for our children is one of the most incredible gifts we can give a child and for future generations to come. The gift of a connection to the natural wonders around them. Every child deserves this opportunity.

That’s why I was really excited to hear that more than a dozen leading health and youth organizations, including, have come together to urge the First Lady and the new Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, (also a mom) to broaden the highly-effective Let’s Move initiative to include support for a federal program that makes more parks available to more kids.

Why shouldn’t every kid be able to visit a park or playground in their neighborhood?

The Land and Water Conservation Fund makes this possible – and all without taxpayer dollars. For 50 years, at the direction of Congress, a portion of fees paid by oil and gas companies drilling offshore has been directed into the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The idea was that if these companies were going to profit by accessing oil and gas in American taxpayer-owned offshore waters, then part of the royalty fees should be given back to taxpayers to protect our land and water onshore.

And it has. For 50 years, LWCF investments have protected such places as Mount Rainier National Park, The Great Smoky Mountains and Yellowstone National Park, as well as other national parks, monuments and public lands in every U.S. state.

Closer to home, every county in the nation has also received LWCF matching grants over the last 50 years. That’s right – there is a park or pool somewhere near you that was first built with LWCF monies. Today, city budgets once deemed too tight for “extras” can now be stretched, thanks to LWCF, for building local parks, trails, skate parks and soccer fields. This is great news for our kids, but also good news for local economies and property values.

Seems like a great program, right? But nearly every year, Congress raids the LWCF budget and leaves few dollars for their intended purpose. It is time for this budget irresponsibility to stop. The future of our children’s health – and our communities -- depend on it. I join the American Heart Association, NAACP, U.S. Soccer Foundation, and others in inviting the First Lady and Secretary Jewell to help champion the importance of ensuring we protect a park for every kid.

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