City backing conservation funding

David Petri successfully seeks the support of Mount Airy officials for continuation of the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

Mount Airy officials are lending their voices of support to a nationwide chorus of concern for a federal conservation program threatened with possible extinction.

Funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is set to expire in fewer than 100 days.

It has been a vital source of revenue for local facilities, according to David Petri, a Mount Airy resident who appeared at a city board of commissioners’ meeting in late June to discuss the possible demise of the fund.

The LWCF has supported numerous community-enhancing projects, including the creation of two city parks in Mount Airy, Petri pointed out. It also has aided numerous improvements to Pilot Mountain State Park, the closest state park for local citizens, he said.

During his recent presentation, Petri asked that Mount Airy officials endorse letters to members of Congress serving this area asking them to support the fund’s reauthorization, which the commissioners did in a unanimous vote.

Big bucks involved

Petri mentioned the important role eco-tourism is now playing.

“Outdoor recreation is a significant economic driver in our community,” he said. That includes the company Petri works for, Nester Hosiery, which targets outdoor-oriented markets for its socks, such as hikers.

Outdoor recreation generates $19.2 billion in consumer spending each year in North Carolina, according to information provided by Petri, and $5.6 billion in wages and salaries.

And when one considers the good the LWCF program has accomplished in Surry and elsewhere, “it seems crazy that this could cease to exist in a few short months,” he said.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund is set to expire at the end of September, and Congress must allocate more funding to continue it for another year. The LWCF, which uses offshore drilling royalties for conservation projects, is considered for renewal on an annual basis.

Some are calling for a permanent reauthorization of the program, which would take away the yearly uncertainties. However, political observers believe that reforms will be needed in order for such a measure to pass both houses of Congress, although some believe no changes are necessary.

Some critics don’t want to see the program used by the federal government to hold more land.

Petri drafted a letter on behalf of the city government to send to North Carolina’s two senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, and Mark Walker, who represents Surry County in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Sen. Burr has been a leader on this,” Petri said of that lawmaker’s support for the LWCF over the years.

Among the specific measures on the table are Senate bills 338 and 890 and HR 1814.

“The LWCF is key program that has positively impacted our community during the last 50 years, and if permanently reauthorized, will also further enrich our community with future creation of outdoor recreational areas,” the letter to the three federal legislators states.

“As our nation continues to grow and seek quality outdoor experiences, we urge (congressional members) to understand the good work the LWCF has done over the last 50 years and support this vital resource for the next 50 years.”

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

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