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Getting Outdoors...Or Not

Closed National Park areas near California's San Gabriel MountainsThe mission of the Sierra Club has long been "Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet." The exploring and enjoying part of that mission has been integral since John Muir and his buddies hiked through the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the late 19th century. Throughout our history we have worked to connect people to special wild places with the understanding that the desire to protect them stems from those connections. Unfortunately, as the government shutdown draws into its 11th day, getting people out to enjoy those places is harder than ever. Though a few states are cobbling together funding to open a handful of select parks, the vast majority of our public lands remain closed.

As has been reported widely, the shutdown of national parks  is harming the local economies of nearby communities. That's because, despite the rhetoric of Republicans in Congress, Americans love our public lands and look forward to visiting them. At the Sierra Club, we work with people to get outdoors as much as possible. People from all walks of life visit some of our country's most spectacular places, many of which are currently shuttered, through our volunteer-led trips. We also have more than 50 groups in our Inner City Outings program, scattered across the country, that lead more than 800 outings every year and provide opportunities for more than 14,000 youth and adults, who otherwise may not have had the opportunity to experience the outdoors. Overall, some 250,000 people get outside every year with Sierra Club Outdoors, exploring and enjoying our public lands and learning the importance of protecting our environment.

Unfortunately, during the past 11 days many of those trips have become impossible. Take our San Gorgonio Chapter in southern California. Every month, groups of volunteers hike into the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness to help the Forest Service maintain trails. They provide a valuable service that thousands of Sierra Clubbers across the country are similarly providing for other public lands, free of cost, to deal with the Forest Service's enormous trail maintenance backlog. Yet due to the shutdown, the San Gorgonio Chapter had to cancel their trip. And they are not the only ones. The Forest Service has had to cancel all volunteer-related activities on the 193 million acres that they manage.

The Sierra Club's trip canoeing the Current River in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways? Cancelled. A week-long trip hiking, canoeing and exploring the waterfalls of Shenandoah National park? Cancelled. Helping the Park Service with invasive plant removal and maintenance at Valley Forge National Historic Park? Cancelled. 

These are outings led by passionate and dedicated volunteers. These are groups of citizens coming together to enjoy and protect all the natural and cultural resources that our country is lucky enough to hold in the public trust. 

Republican obstructionists, please end this and reopen our public lands to the public. It's time to abandon the ineffective and insufficient piecemeal budget solutions and fully fund the government. 

-- Matthew Kirby, Sierra Club Lands Protection Team 

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