From the State Journal Register in Chicago

December 11, 2018

Oped By State Sen. Antonio Munoz

As a lifelong city-dweller, I never gave much thought to public lands. I thought those were concerns of populations living in sparsely populated rural areas, near remote wildlife refuges or grandiose national parks. I had never heard of the Land and Water Conservation Fund growing up; but, like many Chicago natives, I unknowingly enjoyed the fruits of its labor. It wasn’t until I started representing the people of 1st District in the Illinois Senate that I realized the work LWCF has been doing, mostly behind the scenes, for decades.

LWCF, founded in 1964, is a bipartisan commitment to protecting public spaces. It is funded by royalties paid by private oil companies drilling offshore. It costs the taxpayers nothing but protects and provides public spaces for communities across the nation. LWCF has granted approximately $213 million to Illinois. The work of the fund is so vast that I am never far from a LWCF project, whether home in my district or working in Springfield.

I have spent almost two decades in politics, and rarely have I seen such a win-win situation. So I was shocked that Congress let LWCF expire at the end of September. Unless Congress acts immediately, those spaces and any future projects will remain at risk.

Before I was an elected official, I was an officer with the Chicago Police Department. And before my time in blue, I served in green with the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army. As a police officer I saw firsthand the impact of LWCF funded projects — from public pools to neighborhood playgrounds and my favorite ballparks. As a Southsider and lifelong White Sox fan, some of my fondest memories include running around the bases of our local ball field, dreaming of being the next Goose Gossage. While on patrol decades later, I would often drive by the next group of young baseball fans in impromptu games, trying to squeeze one more inning out of the long summer evenings. Those projects, and our collective love of baseball, connected us through the years.

I now understand how integral LWCF was in developing and protecting public areas for my generation, and it is only right that our children continue to have access to those spaces. As a federally funded program, LWCF funds projects in every state, with playgrounds, monuments and other public land in almost every major city.

Part of our American heritage is enjoying the outdoors. The public has a right to enjoy nature, and as elected officials, we have a responsibility to protect public lands. As a veteran and veterans’ advocate, I’ve worked tirelessly to provide care for military members fighting to overcome PTSD and to improve their overall mental wellness. I have witnessed the effects long weekend retreats and extended camping trips have on our returning veterans. Public lands are an effective part of hundreds of treatment plans, helping veterans reconnect to their families and their communities. Public lands and LWCF sponsored projects provide the space and the peace for veterans to process their time in service and transition to whatever comes next.

My political predecessors had the forethought and commitment to create and fund LWCF, and it is time for my generation of politicians to continue their legacy to protect ball fields and public parks across the country. That’s why I joined 70 other elected officials and service members in signing a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke urging him to fully support LWCF.

I stand with representatives from both parties in calling on Congress to take action to fully fund and permanently reauthorize LWCF. We need Senator Durbin and Senator Duckworth to continue to fight for LWCF on behalf of all people who rely on our public lands for recreation and economic opportunities.

The 82 Airborne motto is “All the Way,” and that’s the level of commitment we need from Congress in protecting LWCF, right now and for generations to come.

Tony Munoz, D-Chicago, represents the 1st District in the Illinois Senate