Opinion: Public lands give us room to roam, connect with natural world

By Maya Forte, Santa Fe
Posted 9/28/18

I often solve problems by reconnecting with the natural world. I go on a hike, bike through the mountains or swim in the Río Grande, and all my problems quickly disappear. When isolated from …

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Opinion: Public lands give us room to roam, connect with natural world

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I often solve problems by reconnecting with the natural world. I go on a hike, bike through the mountains or swim in the Río Grande, and all my problems quickly disappear. When isolated from the noise of everything else, I can always think more clearly.

All humans are made this way. We are meant to be connected to the natural world, a place where we can let go of all our problems and be our deepest selves. While we have built cities and civilizations, getting outdoors helps us reconnect with our (often hidden) wild, free, fun and adventurous sides.

At least half of my childhood was spent looking at the stars on my roof, trekking in my family’s camper van and getting outdoors to explore everything we possibly could. As a kid, I grew up skiing in the mountains in the winter, hiking through those same mountains in the summer, playing in local parks and visiting our national parks.

All of this was made possible by the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which funds local parks, such as Santa Fe’s Fort Marcy Park, but also funds our national parks, forests, and so many of our public lands, including areas of the Río Grande del Norte National Monument, a landscape I grew up on.

Growing up in Taos and going to school in Santa Fe, exploring the outdoors was a main source of fun during the summer. My family and I would often drive to the Río Grande, swimming and floating down the river on tubes and jumping off of the Gorge’s cliffs.

My brother and I remember setting up tents at night and laughing when we couldn’t set up the tent just right. These camping and backpacking trips helped us learn responsibility, independence and the need to care for our environment.

I wanted to share these experiences with other kids, so I became a counselor in training for the Field Institute of Taos when I was 13. Serving as a counselor opened my eyes to the lack of outdoor experiences of many of New Mexico’s kids and why the Land and Water Conservation Fund is so important.

Many of the kids that I taught did not have the same access to the outdoors that I had growing up. Many had never been to a national park, or to the river, or even explored the outdoors. Watching these kids find themselves for the first time in nature was an amazing experience. From then on, all I wanted to do was share the wonders of the outdoors with others and work to protect our environment.

While I don’t know what the future holds, the one thing I am certain of is we must make sure that our local parks, national parks and public lands will still be available for people of all ages to explore. I want a future where I will go on trail runs with my dogs, swim in lakes and rivers with my friends, bring my kids to trash-free oceans and beaches.

My natural exploration allowed me to become the person I am, and without it, my life would not be the same. All New Mexico kids deserve the chance to explore, not only what’s in their backyard, but far beyond. If we fail to support the Land and Water Conservation Fund, then we are not only failing our lands and waters, but we are also are robbing my generation and the many generations to come of the opportunities to be transformed, grow, learn and experience the wonders of nature.

Maya Forte is a senior in the New Mexico School for the Arts Dance Department in Santa Fe. She is the head of the Sustainability Club, and in her free time she enjoys mountain biking and hiking through the mountains of Taos.

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