After leaving the Marine Corps, my love for the outdoors evolved into gratitude — for the diversity of my nation, for my ability to serve, and for my opportunity to reconnect to the lands I loved. Whether exploring Minnesota’s forests and lakes when growing up, skiing out west in college or traveling to the nature preserves of the Great Plains for weekend hunting retreats, I found that public lands were there for what I needed, when I needed it.
It was during these trips that I learned about patience, teamwork, and the vast and awe-inspiring beauty of my country. Those memories are irreplaceable, safely guarded and ingrained in who I am. The public lands that provided the space to build those memories, however, are at risk.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a program that funds our outdoor spaces in all 50 states, is set to expire on Sept. 30 if Congress doesn’t act. Created in 1964 by a group of bipartisan lawmakers, LWCF costs taxpayers nothing but provides a service to all.
In my home state of Minnesota, the LWCF has granted $249 million over four decades to protect places like the Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge and the Saint Croix National Scenic River. The LWCF has also funded smaller projects like veterans’ memorials and historic markers across the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” With all the work LWCF has done for Minnesota, I applaud Sen. Tina Smith and Rep. Betty McCollum for voicing their strong support for LWCF, and I ask them to do everything in their power to ensure it does not expire.
My life has taken me across this country, as an AmeriCorps member in Louisiana, a Marine captain in Southern California, a legislative aide in D.C., and an attorney in Colorado. I’ve been lucky to be part of the diverse communities that make up the fabric of American society and to experience the variety of public lands made possible by the LWCF. Through these experiences, I have come to recognize public lands as some of the last remaining egalitarian spaces — serving all residents regardless of economic status, social standing, or physical location. The LWCF provides free, low-cost public spaces in urban neighborhoods, suburban squares, and rural towns from coast to coast.
Whether in a military uniform, a suit and tie, or an AmeriCorps polo, I know what service looks like, and I recognize that public lands serve us all. They provide summits to scale for the adventure-seekers, preserve landmarks for history buffs, and give quiet and peace to those seeking to slow down. For me, they provide the space to spend with friends and family, honing my pheasant hunting or backcountry skiing skills, and passing along the experiences and lessons to the next generation of outdoor-lovers.
I’m proud to stand with McCollum and Smith to fight to protect the LWCF. Public lands have served me for over 30 years, a seemingly permanent fixture throughout my life, but their presence and accessibility is the result of LWCF and support from our legislators.
H.R. 502 needs an immediate vote
Now, more than ever, it’s critical that we tell our representatives what public lands mean to us. That’s why I call on each of you to join me in contacting House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office and demanding he put H.R. 502 to a vote immediately before the Sept. 30 expiration date. This bipartisan bill would permanently reauthorize and protect funding for the LWCF, safeguarding thousands of acres of public spaces for generations to come. Public lands serve us all, and we all have a responsibility to protect them.
Blake Hansen, a Minnesota native, is a former AmeriCorps member and a Marine Corps veteran. Previously serving as an aide for two senators, he now works as a private attorney. When Hansen is not working he can be found skiing, hiking or hunting across public lands.
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