I feel grateful for a Maine childhood filled with time outside.

Until recently, I hadn’t realized how unique it is to grow up in a state that values its outdoor recreation opportunities and open spaces. In fact, 70% of Mainers participate in outdoor recreation, a number higher than the national average. This number is undoubtedly linked to the quality and ease of access to the outdoors in our state.

Francesca Governali

I grew up sledding down the hills of Fort Williams Park, building fairy houses in the quiet forest of Mackworth Island and exploring the trails of Bradbury Mountain. And now, as an avid outdoorsperson, I realize these experiences in local parks sparked my love of the outdoors and my personal goal of making it easier for the public to enjoy our parks and other public lands.

Since those young days, I’ve been fortunate to explore public lands across Maine and around the country. Time outdoors and away from computer screens promotes healthy people and healthy communities. But, even in Maine, we could make access to parks more equitable with help from a program that provides funding to local government agencies, federally recognized Native American tribes, parks districts and non-profits. That program, the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership, is part of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a federal fund dedicated to land conservation and supporting outdoor recreation. Our senators, Susan Collins and Angus King have been strong supporters of LWCF, and supporting the Outdoors for All Act, a bill that dedicates mandatory funding for the ORLP program, is an opportunity to extend that dedication to outdoor access.

Our three largest cities could greatly benefit from the ORLP program. Mainers and visitors alike share an appreciation for the outdoor recreation here. However, the green space in our cities does not match the fantastic outdoor recreation resources that exist outside the more populated areas. The ORLP program provides a way to increase funding and complete projects that have been waiting for support.

Lewiston, Portland and Bangor all qualify for the ORLP grant program. The program facilitates the creation and improvement of parks without spending taxpayer dollars by requiring matching non-federal funds from state, local and private sources — doubling the impact of federal funds.

In Lewiston, residents aspire to restore Kennedy Park and a greenway along the riverfront, expand the trail system to connect to Auburn and generally foster a more walkable city. Again, the ORLP program provides a perfect opportunity to fund goals Lewiston has laid out in its comprehensive plan.

Portland has a goal of an “inter-connected system of parks, trails and open space.” Currently green space makes up 4% of the city’s total area, but Portland could use this program to extend parks into areas that are currently underserved.

As a state, we acknowledge the benefits of outdoor access from improving quality of life to protecting the environment and sustaining the economy. So, why not support a bill that would help Maine’s more urban areas to develop and maintain outdoor recreation?

Given Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King have a history of supporting LWCF, supporting the Outdoors for All Act seems in line with their voting records and dedication to outdoor access. As Sen. Collins stated when supporting permanent reauthorization for LWCF, “Permanent reauthorization (of LWCF) will strengthen local conservation and recreation efforts in Maine, helping to ensure both current and future generations can enjoy the beauty of its natural resources.”

Key in ensuring all generations can enjoy the beauty of our natural resources is providing access to those natural resources, especially in places like Lewiston, Portland and Bangor, where most of our state’s population resides. ORLP grants could provide incentive and funding for our cities to enhance current parks and broaden outdoor recreation opportunities, ultimately providing access for more Mainers.

I hope that Sen. Collins, as well as Sen. King, will continue to support outdoor access and cosponsor the Outdoors for All Act, which will authorize the ORLP program so more Mainers and people around the country can enjoy time in the outdoors.

Francesca Governali grew up hiking, biking, kayaking and skiing all around Maine and has been motivated by these experiences to work in environmental conservation and stewardship. She is a resident of Portland.

Comments are not available on this story.