Hart Park near the bluffs in Bakersfield holds a special place in my heart because that is where we would go with family friends to host birthday parties, go hiking or simply drive through to appreciate the scenery.
The vast green space was perfect for kids to invent games to play with one another, the trees providing ample shade for those hot Bakersfield days. Like many of Bakersfield’s residents, I am not the only person that has fond memories of Hart Park because during the spring and summer, it can be filled with hundreds of families hoping to use the small lake or go swimming in the river. During the winter, it is a nice drive to get to the Holiday Lights at the California Living Museum. The bluffs right next to the park provide a space to hike small hills. The Kern River is home to a wide range of fish that drive our own community to go fishing.
All of my memories in the outdoors, besides small urban parks, come from Hart Park because it was Bakersfield’s Sequoia without having to drive the two hours it takes to get to the national park. And as it turns out, I have the Land and Water Conservation Fund to thank for making it possible.
LWCF is a little known government program that makes a big impact. Hart Park, like more than 42,000 other parks and projects across the nation, has received financial support from LWCF – a federal program that is funded at no cost to taxpayers through royalties collected from offshore oil and gas drilling.
From local community parks, pools, trails and sports facilities to some of our greatest national parks, forests and refuges, LWCF supports the development, expansion and maintenance of these sites and ultimately makes these locations accessible. Americans of all stripes reap the benefits of these protected places, which help support local businesses and provide outdoor access and opportunities for hunters, fishermen, climbers, hikers, bikers and campers across America. For many Latinos and other diverse urban communities, sites funded through this program often provide our only means to experience the outdoors.
More than 35 parks and projects in Kern County, as well more than 1,600 total throughout California, have been funded through LWCF without costing taxpayers a dime.
However, in order for Hart Park and other sites to be there for future generations, for our great-grandchildren, we need to ensure that Congress provides permanent, full-funding for LWCF.
Currently, the annual allocation, which doesn’t cost taxpayers and is capped at $900 million, must be authorized by Congress. However, they have managed to fully-fund LWCF only twice in its 54-year history.
This is why I, along with the majority of Americans, want to see LWCF receive permanent and dedicated funding. The Senate and the House of Representatives overwhelmingly supported the permanent reauthorization of LWCF earlier this year, which reflects how important this program is to local communities. It’s time we start funding it that way.
We need Reps. TJ Cox and Kevin McCarthy and Sens. Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein to share their support for permanent funding of LWCF to ensure our Californian communities continue to benefit from this critical program and that future Bakersfield generations can enjoy their other backyards too.
Evelyn Arredondo Ramirez is a Bakersfield native and program assistant for the Hispanic Access Foundation and a senior at George Washington University.