Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, September 23, 2007

“A Big Idea”

Posted on September 23, 2007

We often don’t place enough importance on a big idea. In fact, I think most ideas fail in Washington and other places not for lack of people willing to help, but for lack of the idea. To keep the American outdoors great, we need a new big idea. That’s why I propose a third President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors to tell us what we need to do to create a new conservation agenda for the next generation and to give us a big idea. Laurence Rockefeller led the first commission in the 1960s, recommending the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). I chaired the second commission during the 1980s at the request of President Reagan, and for two years we looked ahead to determine what Americans would want to do outdoors and how we could have appropriate places to do those things. We created new fixtures in the outdoors movement like greenways, conservation easements, trails, city parks and other initiatives. We proposed taking revenue from the sale of non-renewable assets – like oil – to pay for part of the LWCF to help Americans enjoy our open spaces. Today, we have new challenges like climate change, air pollution and invasive plants. We have ugly cell phone towers and billboards that are littering the view of some of our most scenic places. Children are spending more time playing video games and watching TV instead fishing, hiking and playing outside, and that makes it harder to teach them how to learn to love and appreciate the great outdoors. We need a new commission to address these challenges and come up with a new big idea. Egypt has its pyramids, Italy has its art – but our country has the great American outdoors. It’s a part of our heritage. It’s not just something on a list. We feel it, and we know it, and it’s important to each of us in individual ways. We need another big idea to protect it for future generations.