COLUMBUS, Ohio - Some U.S. military veterans want Congress to permanently reauthorize and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a program that protects access to public lands and recreation that is set to expire at the end of September.
According to the Vet Voice Foundation, the program helps keep opportunities such as hiking and hunting open to everyone and especially is important for veterans who use the land as a place to recover after their service. In Ohio, the LWCF has protected parts of Cuyahoga Valley National Park and Wayne National Forest, as well as local parks and projects.
Josh Werkheiser, a retired U.S. Army paratrooper, said the outdoors keep him mentally grounded.
"When I'm out there, it's finding a new center, I guess is how some people have put it, like there's not a care in the world," he said. "All of the anxiety's gone. It's just you and your surroundings, and there's no need to worry about what's going to happen next because, hey, you're in God's hands right now."
The program receives funding from royalties paid by energy companies drilling for oil and gas offshore. Funds also are used to build playgrounds, trails, parks, swimming pools, urban bike paths, soccer fields and other facilities. More than 41 thousand projects have been supported by the fund since its creation in 1965.
Werkheiser says it will be a dark day if L-W-C-F isn't reauthorized. He hopes other veterans will be able to feel the rejuvenating effects of public lands in the future.
"I'm all for taking fellow veterans out into the mountains. Get them out on the water, do some fly fishing. Get them away from society so they can experience what I experience and give them some time to heal and process everything, and I think without that we're doing an injustice."
Funds also have helped preserve historic military sites, battlefields and monuments. Ohio has received more than $331 million from the program since its inception more than 50 years ago.
Information on the Vet Voice Foundation's campaign is online at vetvoicefoundation.org.