As we celebrate National Estuaries Week and National Public Lands Day this week, I encourage all of you to join citizens as they gather and volunteer in coastal areas and public lands across the country. Our nation's estuaries, bodies of water where freshwater meets the ocean, and public lands, especially America's national parks, provide excellent recreational opportunities, critical habitat for plants and wildlife, and are economic generators that support local businesses and serve as tourist destinations for many. The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) is a long-time supporter of these volunteer events, which bring thousands of people together in the outdoors to plant trees, pick up litter, remove invasive plants, improve trails, and just have fun getting their hands dirty for a good cause. As a bonus, national parks are waiving entrance fees this Saturday to encourage visitors to experience the parks and volunteer.
As someone who lives and frequently sails on the Chesapeake Bay and works to protect and preserve America's national parks, I have spent many years fighting for clean water, good policies, and strong funding for the waterways and national parks that are so important to me and my family, and millions of Americans across the country. When people visit our national parks and our Great Waters like the Chesapeake or the Great Lakes, they expect to see the best of what America has to offer, which is why it is so critical that we work together to ensure they are accessible to all.
These places represent the best of the great outdoors for all to enjoy, and they provide jobs and generate income for local communities. Collectively, our national parks represent a third of the top 25 domestic travel locations, generate more than $30 billion in economic activity, and provide more than a quarter million jobs annually. According to a report by Restore America's Estuaries, coastal counties provide 40 percent of the nation's jobs, including those in the commercial and recreational fishing industry that alone employs 1.5 million people.
NPCA has been working for many years to restore and protect these special places. Our America's Great Waters program supports a larger national effort to protect, preserve, and restore our nation's most iconic waterways, many of which are located near America's national parks. From the Everglades, to Acadia and Olympic National Parks, there are nearly 80 national parks that are surrounded by estuaries that are critical to the restoration of healthy waterways, our way of life, and economic health. America's Great Waters, which are known for their national significance and ongoing major restoration efforts, can be found coast-to-coast and include important estuaries like the Chesapeake Bay, New York - New Jersey Harbor and Hudson Estuary, the Everglades, Puget Sound, San Francisco Bay and more.
NPCA has made it a priority to better connect people to America's national parks and estuaries and improve the ecological health of these incredible places. For example, NPCA's Chesapeake Bay Freedom to Float campaign helps connect communities with the nearly 12,000 miles of shoreline that have little or no access in the Chesapeake watershed. By securing and protecting these shorelines, we make the land and water safer and cleaner for wildlife and migratory fish and more accessible to people. By creating public access locations, we have an opportunity to educate, inspire personal connections with nature, citizen stewardship, and landscape conservation.
Our successful advocacy efforts have also helped protect places like Drakes Estero, the ecological heart of the Point Reyes National Seashore, as the first marine wilderness area on the West Coast. The decision to remove a commercial oyster farm from the area and return the marine environment to its natural state was stipulated by Congress decades ago, but only finalized last year and ensures that this spectacular area is there for American's to access and enjoy.
And in Florida, our efforts to restore freshwater flows to the Everglades has resulted in a $90 million commitment by Governor Rick Scott over the next three years to match National Park Service funds for additional bridging on Tamiami Trail, which has acted like a dam and blocked critical water flows to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.
As we come together to celebrate and volunteer for National Estuaries Week and National Public Lands Day, I encourage you to get out and enjoy these treasured places and tell your members of Congress why they are special to you, necessary for a healthy economy, and encourage them to keep these places open and funded for all to experience and enjoy. Please visit, www.npca.org for more information about how to get involved at a national park near you.
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