Maria Gutzeit: Wealth of open spaces

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I play in the dirt. Anything outdoors is A-OK with me. So I may be a bit biased when gushing about our great public recreational opportunities, like the Newhall Pass Open Space opening with not only a ribbon-cutting but also a guided hike on Thursday.

As we slide into summer, it’s a great time to recognize how lucky we are. We also need to support our open space amid new threats to it.

Voters embraced the city of Santa Clarita’s Open Space measure, a property tax to pay for areas like the Newhall Pass Open Space. Thousands enjoy the many open areas right outside our doors.

We also have great parkland and natural areas run by the county or nonprofits such as Towsley, Placerita Canyon and Mentryville.

In California, around 45 percent of the land is publicly owned. In a lifetime, it is unlikely we would run out of places to visit, even if we never left the state.

Much of the Western U.S. is in the same boat, filled with national parks, forests and monuments, with additional state-owned property to enjoy. People move to, and visit, areas specifically for the outdoors.

According to the Outdoor Industry Association there are 7.6 million direct jobs associated with outdoor recreation, and the industry generated $63.5 billion in federal tax revenue, $59.2 billion in state and local revenue, and $887 billion in consumer spending.

A 2011 University of Michigan Study reported that for every $1 invested in the National Park Service, $4 in taxpayer revenue was returned.

Not all is rosy, however. Though the total proposed federal budget from May 2017 is about the same as last year, it suggests not only a 31 percent cut in funding to the EPA, but also a roughly 11 percent, or $ 1.5 billion, cut from the Interior Department.

Twenty-two existing federal monuments and wilderness designations, like the Giant Sequoia National Monument near Kernville and the San Gabriel Wilderness, are “under review.”

This self-described “initial list” threatens areas designated as far back as 1996. Millions of acres are now being, at minimum, revisited as to their use. The public can submit comments to the Department of Interior for a short time, and I encourage people to do so.

Though open spaces are economically positive, that’s not the point. Without a dollar changing hands, they make our citizens and our visitors rich beyond imagination.

Born on the East Coast, growing up in the Midwest, I remember our family traveling for days in our jam-packed Ford Econoline van, sustained by salami sandwiches and Cheez Whiz, to see our national jewels every summer.

Those travels are a big reason I moved west. Each of us can visualize our favorite outdoor spots. My paradise is the shade of a tree in the arid West, surrounded by mountains.

For others it may be the warm waters of the Florida gulf, or the brilliant colors of Vermont and New Hampshire in the fall. Memories of Mammoth Cave, Mount Rushmore and the boardwalks at Yellowstone are inside many of us.

Even more priceless are outdoor experiences. Realizing you can fit a whole wardrobe in a backpack. Happily going a week with no makeup, no car, and no electricity.

Exploring tidepools. Hearing the wrens and the ravens settling down for the evening. Smelling sage-covered hills. Fretting about bears that thankfully, in the end, didn’t eat you or your food.

Watching fish leap out of the water, for some reason only they know, right next to your boat. Trekking in altitude so high that just watching one foot step in front of the other makes you dizzy. Knowing, thanks to a ranger, the difference between stalactites and stalagmites.

Riding your bike through a freezing rainstorm and realizing you stopped for a rest in the thick forest right next to a group of moose, breath steaming.

No offense to budgets, bean-counters and industry groups, but if the shade of a tree, a stream of water, a warmed-up can of chili, or the sight of a moose bigger than you can make you happy, you are rich indeed. That’s why I’m grateful for “out there” and our public lands.

Let’s ensure we all can keep making memories for summers to come, both in Santa Clarita and across the USA.

Maria Gutzeit is a chemical engineer, business owner, elected water official, and mom living in Santa Clarita. This summer she and her family are heading outdoors in California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona.

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