Skinner’s Latest Conspiracy Attacks Public Access, Montana’s Great Outdoors

The Land & Water Conservation Fund is an important tool that helps Americans of all walks of life enjoy the Great Outdoors

By Ben Long

Dave Skinner has a sharp pen and an active imagination. The result is too many conspiracy theories to keep track of.

But his recent tirade against the Land & Water Conservation Fund (Aug. 13 Beacon: “Conserving Land and Water) needs to be deflated. Flathead Beacon readers deserve better information.

The Land & Water Conservation Fund is an important tool that helps Americans of all walks of life enjoy the Great Outdoors. It has brought enormous benefits for all of us in the Flathead.

To illustrate just how important this law is for locals, I would invite Dave to go fishing, hiking, hunting and bicycling right here at home, instead of sniffing out conspiracies on the internet.

President Johnson signed the Land & Water Conservation Fund 50 years ago. It simply requires that some of the royalties paid for off-shore oil drilling rights go back to the people who own that oil – the American people – by being invested in places for recreation.

In the decades since, the LWCF has paid for public recreation both in the form of playgrounds and parks in cities and access to woods and waters for those of us lucky to live in more rural places.

“What about all the state and local parks and amenities bought and built with LWCF funding?” Skinner asks. “What kind of shape are those assets in today?”

Well, Dave, let’s take a look.

I am a father of a young boy who likes his bicycle but, because of a physical disability, cannot safely ride on city streets.

However, he can ride until his legs wear out on the Rails-to-Trails that stretch from Somers to Kalispell to Kila. We also love Kalispell’s Lawrence Park, which appears to be busier by the day for everyone walking dogs and playing Frisbee golf.

LWCF helped pay for both of them.

My son also loves to fish. I wish Dave could have been there to see his smile when he caught his first trout, or the many other fish we have caught together at Shady Lane pond near Old Steel Bridge.

That pond was paid for in part by the Land & Water Conservation Fund.

In fact 70 percent of the fishing access sites in Montana were secured in part by the Land & Water Conservation Fund. This network is a priceless asset for both our family recreation and our tourism economy. Take note how popular Somers Bay Access Site is on any sunny day.

Good hunting is part of why I decided to settle in the Flathead 25 years ago. Over those years, I’ve seen dozens of great deer and elk spots sold and fenced off behind no-trespassing signs as timberlands were converted to private homes and trophy estates.

Some of the best hunting in northwestern Montana is the Swan Valley. Elk and deer hunters put about 25,000 hunter-days each fall in the Swan. Plum Creek Timber Co. sold its holdings there and that land could have easily been locked up behind trophy homes, a la Iron Horse.

But thanks in part to the Land & Water Fund that land will remain open for hunting, fishing, berry picking and firewood cutting in perpetuity. (And bonus! It stays in the timber supply too.)

Anyone who cares about the future health and wellbeing of our kids and grandkids should be delighted that America has the LWCF.

Big Green Conspiracy? No, Dave. LWCF is really about good people working together to keep America and Montana a great place to live and raise a family.

Get outside and look. It will do you good.

Ben Long

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