Great Outdoors, Asheville: Building on Roosevelt’s legacy

You know it, your friends know it, and area visitors including Barack Obama know it:  Western North Carolina offers many high-quality opportunities to recreate in the great outdoors.

That’s why the administration launched its Great Outdoors Initiative’s Listening Sessions here in Asheville today, along with a handful of other locations across the U.S.  It probably helps that North Carolina is a national leader when it comes to investing public funds in land protection and conservation—even in tough economic times.

And it appears that Obama wishes to cast his lot in history with the likes of President Theodore Roosevelt, who in 1908 launched an initiative to create a nationwide system of public lands, producing our National Parks, National Forests, National Seashores and Wild and Scenic Rivers.  The current initiative is Obama’s effort to create a 21st century strategy to further that land protection agenda, and to connect citizens and families with America’s special places.

It’s all in the memo Obama wrote to the Secretaries of Agriculture, Interior, and the Administrator of the EPA back in April.  “Today, we are losing touch with too many of the places and proud traditions that have helped to make America special.  Farms, ranches, forests, and other valuable natural treasures are disappearing at an alarming rate.  We are losing our connection to the parks, wild places, and open spaces we grew up with and cherish.”

Today, officials from those federal departments came to collect public input in a series of listening sessions held on the campus of A-B Tech.  Several hundred attendees, representing dozens of public agencies and non-profit organizations from around the southeast were present, some traveling from Athens, GA, Cocke County, TN, and even Burlington, AL.

Participants began by gathering in A-B Tech’s Ferguson auditorium to hear an overview of the initiative, where Mayor Terry Bellamy joined D.C. officials including Jonathan Jarvis, Director of the National Park Service, who quoted Joni Mitchell in promoting “the inextricable linkage” between people and the natural environment. “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone,” he said.  “The construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway was in part a response to [create jobs in] an economic downturn.  We have a chance to make that same sort of investment in our future.”

“We want to create an outdoor conservation agenda to rival Teddy Roosevelt’s for the 21st century,” said Tom Strickland, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish, Wildlife and Parks. “I wish we could bottle up the energy here in Asheville and distribute it around the country. What you’re doing is really the future.”
photo by Jerry Nelson

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