Listening for the Great Outdoors: public forum today

Obama’s back in town Thursday – or at least, officials from the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Interior, and the White House’s own Council on Environmental Quality – for a Great Outdoors Listening Event, a public forum aiming to gather information about successful conservation efforts in the region and to receive input on how the federal government can partner with communities in conserving more land and reconnecting American families to nature. The forum will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. today at AB-Tech. But on Wednesday, July 14, area officials gathered at Carrier Park for a preview.

In an afternoon press conference at Carrier Park on Wednesday, area officials — including four state legislators, plus leaders from local land and water protection groups and outdoor recreation businesses — provided a preview of the messages they plan to deliver at the forum.

The Obama Administration chose Western North Carolina as one of a handful of areas to conduct the listening sessions, in part because of its remarkable track record of success in conserving open space for future generations.

“There are not many states that do what North Carolina does in terms of setting aside money for conservation,” said Phyllis Stiles, Campaign Director at Blue Ridge Forever.  “We’re really a national leader in that regard,” even in these tough economic times.

“The Obama Administration is coming to learn from our successes and our innovations,” according to Reid Wilson, Executive Director of the Conservation Trust for North Carolina, who traveled from Raleigh to attend Thursday’s session.  “We want to urge them to increase the pace of land conservation, and to connect people, especially children and families, with land conservation in their communities.”

One of the main goals for the groups that organized Wednesday’s press conference is to boost state and federal dollars allocated to four public funds that support the preservation of open space: the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, the Natural Heritage Trust Fund, the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, and the Agriculture Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund.

The listening event will take place on the campus of A-B Tech, in the Simpson Administration Building, Room 115, from 1 to 4 p.m. on Thursday, July 15, 2010.

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