Great Outdoors Month: Remembering Roberto Clemente’s Legacy

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This past June, we celebrated the legacy of our parks, public lands and waters during Great Outdoors Month. There is so much to enjoy outside this time of the year, and doing so with family is always memorable.

In that spirit, this year I decided to commemorate Great Outdoors Month by taking my daughters to the Roberto Clemente State Park in New York City. Located along the Harlem River in the Bronx, this extremely popular and well-loved park offers a variety of recreational and cultural activities year-round for youth, adults, senior citizens and the physically challenged. Baseball fields, basketball courts, picnic areas and a riverfront promenade welcome visitors each day.

There wouldn’t be a Roberto Clemente State Park, however, if it weren’t for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) which provided crucial support for the park’s recreational facilities.

For over 50 years, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has benefited states and local communities with conservation and outdoor-recreation needs. The LWCF is a dedicated fund that uses a small portion of royalties paid by oil and gas companies drilling in federal waters – instead of taxpayer dollars – to preserve national parks and forests, and provide matching grants for playgrounds, trails, parks, and baseball fields nationwide.

If you have a chance to accomplish something that will make things better for people coming behind you, and you don’t do that, you are wasting your time on earth.

— Roberto Clemente

Despite the health, social and economic benefits parks provide – improving fitness, enhancing the quality of the environment, and supporting the local economy – the lack of awareness of LWCF contributes to its chronic funding. Moreover, Congress has nearly every year redirected the royalty money intended for the LWCF to other purposes. This affects our communities and families. State and local governments report an $18.5-billion backlog of park and recreation projects that await LWCF matching grants.

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During his lifetime, Clemente was a champion for children and outdoor recreation. Despite a demanding schedule Roberto made time to hold baseball clinics for children – especially underprivileged children. One of his dreams was to establish a “Sports City” where youth would have access to outdoor facilities, coaching and encouragement in many sports. Today, the Roberto Clemente Sports City in Carolina, Puerto Rico is just part of the legacy he left behind.

At a time when too many Latinos find themselves in sedentary routines, we need to do more to help our community reconnect with the outdoors. Forty percent of Latino children are overweight, and 50 percent are on track to develop diabetes. LWCF can help to address these disparities by creating safe, local parks and playgrounds. This in turn may help Latino children become more physically active and maintain a healthy weight.

Speaking to a Houston audience in 1971, just one year before his death, Roberto Clemente said “if you have a chance to accomplish something that will make things better for people coming behind you, and you don’t do that, you are wasting your time on earth.” Congress has the opportunity to continue honor the life on an exceptional baseball player and committed humanitarian by providing dedicated and full funding for a program that has provided children and families safe, high quality, and easily accessible places to play and exercise.