For the Love of the Chattahoochee, Vote YES on Amendment One
George Dusenbury, Executive Director, The Trust for Public Land in Georgia
Public land acquisition is expensive. And complicated. And critical.
It takes tenacity, vision and, usually, a multitude of funding sources – because they all leverage each other. Dollars from federal programs give individual donors and foundations confidence to invest. That momentum can spark local governments to act. Those resources and more are all necessary to preserve the places where we recreate and connect. Yet in Georgia, there is one piece missing from that puzzle: dependable state funding for land. Alabama has it. Florida has it. Georgia needs it.
Fortunately, you have the opportunity to do your part to give our growing state the funding it needs to create and care for our public lands by voting “Yes” on Amendment One when you cast your ballot this fall. Amendment One, the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Amendment, will dedicate a portion of the existing sales and use tax on outdoor sporting goods—about $20 million a year with no new taxes or fees—to land and water conservation and stewardship.
To understand why your support for Amendment One is so important, consider the Chattahoochee River.
In the mid-1990s, The Trust for Public Land launched a campaign to protect the Chattahoochee. We partnered with The Nature Conservancy to secure $25 million from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund for land acquisition. The Woodruff Foundation matched those funds with a $25 million grant. Over time, The Trust for Public Land leveraged that initial investment to raise more than $150 million in public and private funds to preserve 18,000 acres and 80 miles along the Chattahoochee River.
Much of that land is now part of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (CRNRA), where each year nearly 3 million people hike, bike, fish and float. In 2016 alone, visitors to the CRNRA spent more than $119 million in surrounding communities, supporting more than 1,800 jobs. Protected land around the river also preserves trees, wetlands and greenspaces that clean our air and water while providing habitat for wildlife. The Chattahoochee is the source of drinking water for more than three million metro Atlanta residents.
For all these reasons, The Trust for Public Land is investing even more in the Chattahoochee. True to our legacy and our mission to preserve land for people, we are collaborating with dozens of nonprofit, government and corporate partners to create a master plan for 100 miles of the river – from Buford Dam to Chattahoochee Bend State Park. Imagine a series of riverfront parks – complete with trails, kayak launches, boardwalks, fishing holes and even places to camp –less than a thirty-minute drive from millions of people.
Acquiring the land to achieve that vision will require substantial and diverse funding – local, state and national.
Local communities have been doing their part, prioritizing investments in public land. Around the Chattahoochee, voters in Cobb County passed a $40 million park bond in 2006, and more recently, Johns Creek passed a $40 million bond. Other cities and counties have done the same. But they can’t do it alone. They count on federal, state and private matching funds to achieve their vision for parks and public lands.
Unfortunately, the primary source of federal funding for land conservation – the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) – faces an uncertain future. Using funds from offshore federal oil and gas leases, Congress established the Fund in 1964 to protect important land, water and cultural heritage. The Fund has preserved millions of acres of land across the country and was the source of that initial Chattahoochee investment. In September of this year, LWCF expired. While the Fund generally receives bipartisan support and the outlook for its reinstatement is good, Congress has yet to turn their attention to this important topic.
The lack of certainty around LWCF makes Amendment One all the more important. Furthermore, dedicated funding allows state agencies and organizations like the one I lead to plan ahead–which saves money. If we don’t know year-to-year what kind of public funding will be available, it is difficult to commit to expensive land purchases, and land prices climb as our state grows.
Think of what an initial $25 million public investment accomplished along the Chattahoochee. Imagine what Georgia can accomplish with $20 million a year, for areas around the Chattahoochee and across our state. From the north Georgia mountains, down mighty waterways through cities and towns and out to the Atlantic, there are special places that we need to protect and parks that we need to build. Vote YES on Amendment One, so that we can all enjoy the beauty and the bounty of our state.