Steve Madewell

Pedestrian Ramblings

All across Ohio and all across the nation people enjoy public lands and National Public Lands Day is celebrated the last weekend of September. 

I enjoyed a 36 year career working in parks and recreation and was privileged to have served as the executive director for Geauga Park District, Lake Metroparks and Toledo Metroparks. I have seen first hand how people use and enjoy public lands. They come for recreational pursuits, to recover from the stress of day to day life, to receive inspiration, to celebrate love and build relationships and even morn and recover from loss. There is an increasing body of research that illustrates the health and mental benefits associated with outdoor experiences. Time out of doors can also create unique memories and help develop an appreciation for the natural resources and wonders associated with where we live, our state and our great nation. 

As a avid outdoorsman my family and I have enjoyed hiking, camping, hunting and fishing across Ohio and several states. These experiences have shaped my character and developed and refined my values and created strong bonds within our family.

As a professional I have been involved with numerous local and regional public surveys and reviewed hundreds of other state and national surveys. I have read and studied countless articles on the economic impacts of open space and their associated cultural and social values. 

The protection of open space and natural areas is important to Ohioans and people across the United States.    

Public lands are our shared legacy where all Americans can recreate on millions of acres that conserve landscapes and waters home to incredible fish and wildlife populations, important historic and archaeological treasures and stunning scenery. In Ohio, large municipal parks, regional parks like Metroparks and our system of State Parks, Natural Areas, Forests and Wildlife Areas are all incredibly important and highly utilized. Ohioans also enjoy Cuyahoga National Park, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and Wayne National Forest which are managed by the federal government.  These are all treasured areas enjoyed by millions of visitors each year.

Public lands in the Buckeye State improve quality of life for millions of Ohioans who annually enjoy hunting, fishing, hiking, biking, camping, wildlife viewing, nature photography, bird watching, quiet time and serenity. 

According to a 2017 outdoor recreation survey by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources trail activities are so popular that adding trails is a top request across all demographics and canoeing and kayaking are growing in popularity. 

It is also widely understood and appreciated that natural areas provide ecological services contributing to the protection of water and air quality and provide essential habitat for all manner of wildlife and unique plant communities. 

Public lands also drive a powerful economic engine known as outdoor recreation, generating 215,000 jobs in Ohio. According to the Outdoor Industry Association annual consumer spending is estimated at $24.3 billion. In addition there is an estimated $7.0 billion in payroll and $1.5 billion in state and local taxes. Nationally, outdoor recreation drives $887 billion in consumer spending annually and employs 7.6 million people.

Unfortunately there are some people who want to sell public lands to private owners or allow damaging commercial or industrial development on them.

Current recommendations for increased mining and drilling on public lands are being considered along with a proposal to shrink boundaries of ten national monuments. These considerations ignore or dismiss the feedback of more than 2.8 million public comments submitted to the Department of Interior on the matter. The vast majority of which were in favor of keeping national monuments intact.

Public lands and waterways are for all of us. We shouldn't sell, shrink, or damage them. We should continue to invest in them.

The federal government should follow the State of Ohio’s example in protecting public access to outdoor spaces. Ohio is in discussions with American Electric Power to purchase a major portion of the company’s 60,000-acre ReCreation Land property in eastern Ohio. Governor Kasich called this opportunity to acquire a large expanse for public recreation “rare” and noted it could provide greater outdoor opportunities for “Ohioans and out-of-state visitors who are drawn to our great state parks, forests, nature preserves and wildlife areas.”

So in honor of National Public Lands Day go out and enjoy our public lands and waterways. While we’re there, let’s pick up some trash or volunteer to maintain a trail, or remove an invasive species. We should also encourage our elected officials to respect the public’s will, do what’s best for our country and keep public lands protections intact.