- The Washington Times - Monday, July 5, 2004

There is perhaps no better description of the great beauty and lure of the American landscape than the one written some 200 years ago by Capt. Meriwether Lewis as he and the rest of the Corps of Discovery made its way west through lands never before seen by American citizens.

When passing what is now called the White Cliffs of the Missouri, Lewis wrote: “nature presents to the view of the traveler vast ranges of walls of tolerable workmanship. So perfect indeed are those walls that I should have thought that nature had attempted here to rival the human art of masonry had I not recalled that she had first began her work. As we passed on, it seemed as if those scenes of visionary enchantment would never end.”

In the two centuries since Lewis wrote those words, much has transformed our country. Tiny outposts grew into great cities, and Indian trails became modern highways linking every corner of our nation. Yet today, the “visionary enchantment” Lewis experienced still beckons millions of Americans who take to the outdoors to enjoy the wonders of great open spaces.

That’s why it troubles us that access to many of the nation’s public lands is being closed to recreational activity. Our organization, Americans for Responsible Recreational Access (ARRA), was founded because of a growing concern about the alarming number of closures.

We know every day more and more Americans seek out recreational opportunities on our public lands and waterways. And as our cities and suburbs become even more congested, Americans turn to public lands and waterways to relieve the stress of everyday living. Maintaining access to these public lands, then, becomes important to maintaining the health and wellbeing of millions of Americans.

You won’t hear us say, however, that problems don’t exist. Regretfully, there are individuals who have knowingly harmed our public lands. All too often, the simple response by some interest groups to such behavior is to advocate closing these public lands to all rather than the few troublemakers.

We believe closing access to public lands to everyone does not address the real problem of bad behavior. That’s why we have supported action in the House Resources Committee to penalize only those individuals who choose to misuse our public lands and not those who abide by land use regulations.

H.R. 3247, the TRAIL Act, would, for the first time, provide a consistent framework of enforcement authority among all of our federal public lands agencies. The TRAIL Act comes down hard on those who would abuse our public lands — but it keeps those lands open to the vast majority of outdoor enthusiasts who treat the land with respect.

When someone breaks our traffic laws, society’s response is not to ban all traffic on our highways. Rather, we increase enforcement and we prosecute the lawbreakers. The same should hold true for activities on federal lands and waterways. If penalties do not deter violators, strengthening our laws and penalties is preferable to simply closing federal lands to all.

ARRA will continue aggressively challenging those groups and individuals who would arbitrarily close off more public lands and waterways to recreational use.

The desire of Americans for access to our magnificent public lands and waterways runs deep. It began long ago with the earliest explorations of our country and it exists still today. ARRA wants to make ensure that access to our public lands continues for current and future generations alike.

Larry E. Smith is executive director of Americans for Responsible Recreational Access.

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