Michael Halicki, Executive Director for Park Pride
Last week, my friend and colleague Thomas Farmer of The Nature Conservancy talked about an effort to create a dedicated source of funding for land conservation, the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act. Park Pride is proud to be a part of a coalition of like-minded organizations advocating for this proposal at the General Assembly as we believe it will have a positive impact both environmentally and economically through our state.
The Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act would dedicate a portion of the existing tax on outdoor recreation equipment to land conservation projects including urban parks and greenspace. We have seen first-hand the incredible return on investment this could have on our community and our economy.
Just last year, Centennial Olympic Park received Central Atlanta Progress’ Downtown Economic Impact Award in recognition of the $2.4 billion (and growing) in investment that has helped attract residents and tourists alike to an area many never dreamed could become a center of recreation and celebration. Likewise, the Silver Comet Trail, which also serves as a wonderful connection between our region’s urban, suburban and rural counties, has increased property value, taxes and tourism dollars by $461 million annually along its route.
As Atlanta and other urban areas in Georgia face increasing development pressures, we need to ensure that we have the greenspace required to deliver similar quality of life and economic benefits. For example, the City of Atlanta envisions a doubling or perhaps a tripling of population growth between now and 2040. That greater population density must be balanced with connections to nature, meaning more parks, trails and trees. Residents of Johns Creek and Milton in North Fulton County recently demonstrated the undeniable connection between greenspace and quality of life by voting overwhelmingly to approve new funding for land conservation.
Public funding at the state and local levels has been and will continue to be an important part of the equation in securing parks and greenspace. A great example is the City of Atlanta’s ability to leverage $986,000 in state conservation funds to secure $4.1 million in additional funding for greenspace acquisition in 2001-2004. As a result, 176 acres were acquired that protected water resources and provided public recreation spaces in the City. Parks including Lionel Hampton Nature Preserve, Morningside Nature Preserve, Kirkwood Urban Forest and Vine City Park were all acquired, thanks at least in part, to that opportunity to leverage state dollars.
The Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act has the potential to provide even more opportunities for cities throughout the state as funds are leveraged to secure or amplify both local government and philanthropic dollars.
State funding is not a silver bullet to urban greenspace acquisition. It is, however, a tool in the toolbox, an important tool that will bear a cost if it is not utilized. I am confident that the state can and should play in preserving land and will be able to do so even more robustly and effectively if this important legislation is ultimately passed.