As a child, I grew up playing in the rivers and hills of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. My parents gave us limited rules and restrictions when we hit the trails and rivers. We could run free, climb on the rocks, explore what we thought where endless boundaries, as long as Mom could see us. There was a sense of magic, playing in the pale blue waters and lush forest.
Now, living in the West, and grown up, I’m lucky to have miles of water within a day’s drive and access to endless miles of backcountry roads that lead to wild, blue rivers. Some of my favorite ways to get to the river are via glorified trails, overgrown roads that haven’t seen a grader in years, that lead to pools where the trout haven’t seen a fly in months. Places where I maneuver my Chevy over sharp basalt rocks, and sagebrush scrapes the sides of the vehicle. While I pray the truck doesn’t overheat or get a flat because my cell phone doesn’t work out here. Mule deer in the distance look up, startled by the disturbance, then their heads twitch back and forth and they go back to eating wild bunchgrass.
These are American public lands that give me access to fish whenever I want, at minimal cost. The federal government holds these public lands in a trust so current and future generations can enjoy the rich beauty and resources that they offer. In Oregon alone, there are 32 million acres of public land for anglers, birders, hikers, hunters to explore and find there next secret spot. These lands and other federal lands across the West provide wide-reaching economic benefits to outfitters like myself, as well as local communities that rely on outdoor opportunities for income.
Public lands rightfully belong to all Americans, who depend on them for recreational opportunities and access to explore new places with family and friends. In an increasingly crowded West where open space is rapidly becoming one the rarest and most valuable assets of the Western lifestyle, ensuring that these lands stay in the public trust is more important now than ever before so our children can run wild and free and experience places with limited boundaries.