As the end of July arrives, I am sure a lot of Patch readers have been enjoying some well-deserved leisure time outside. Some folks might be taking a break to hike or bike at nearby Gunpowder Falls State Park. Perhaps others are cooling off in the water down at Rocky Point Beach and Park. In any event, while you and your friends and neighbors happen to be out and about in our local parks and recreation facilities, just remember that these great resources depend on all of us to keep promoting their importance.
Since 1985, communities nationwide have been celebrating "Recreation and Parks Month" during the month of July. This designation, made by the National Recreation and Park Association, encourages local park and recreation professionals to increase awareness within their communities around initiatives such as striving for healthy living and promoting environmental sustainability. During the past month, local parks and recreation facilities have been promoting the use of their sites for various leisure activities, community service days and overall community involvement.
Our elected officials in Congress have been working to ensure that both a sensible policy framework and series of targeted investments exist to guarantee the future success of park and recreation programs and sites. For example, the House of Representatives recently approved a funding bill for the Department of the Interior. Specific provisions contained within this legislation continue a 10-year initiative to upgrade our national parks before the centennial of the National Park Service in 2016. A significant portion of this additional funding is targeted at improving national park operations in order to help ensure that visitors to our national parks will experience enhanced levels of service.
The Interior appropriations legislation also contains focused investments for Maryland's natural resources and parks, including $50 million for programs to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay and $400,000 for the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network, an initiative that expands access to the Bay and works to make visits to parks, wildlife refuges, and water trails more meaningful experiences.
In the transportation realm, funds have been recently awarded to support the development of local trails, and the expansion of bikeways along key road corridors. In Baltimore County, two such projects received funding through the Maryland Department of Transportation's "Cycle Maryland" program. Specifically, $100,000 will help support the creation of a 4-mile Towson “Bike Beltway,” connecting government buildings, schools, colleges and shopping areas. Also in Baltimore County, a $100,000 Bikeways grant will fund the design of the Catonsville Short Line Rail Trail and a connection to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
To be sure, these are positive developments. However, the main reason for having Recreation and Parks Month is to remind everyone that, for these types of programs to remain as priorities for funding, we must remind elected officials of their continued importance to us all. In this day and age of limited public-sector funds, we must all be strong advocates for programs that make a difference, as our park facilities and recreation programs certainly do.