After my father was blacklisted from Chinese academia for his role in pro-democracy activism, he decided to escape the communist regime and study in the United States, because America was “the leader of the free world.” My mother and I joined him in Nashville shortly after he fled, quickly making the American South our home.
I fell in love with my new country – the sweeping views of the Smoky Mountains and the rustic campgrounds of the national forests, all full of adventures for a young boy.
My love for the outdoors deepened once I joined the Army. During a trip to Big Bend with my fellow soldiers, we all marveled at the clear night sky, sparkling with thousands of bright stars. As we hiked through winding, rugged trails the next day, we were overwhelmed with gratitude that places like that existed for all Americans.
After enlisting as a combat medic in the U.S. Army, I proudly earned my citizenship, making these public lands officially part of my country.
What I didn’t know then was that these public spaces were, in part, funded by the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a bipartisan program founded in 1964 that has protected public spaces like Big Bend State Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park since its inception.
Through royalties paid by gas and oil companies, the LWCF is able to fund projects across the country, conserving public lands and projects for future generations at no cost to taxpayers. In South Carolina alone, the LWCF has invested more than $294 million in public projects.
Earlier this year, Congress heard the voices of the American people and permanently reauthorized the fund.
But lawmakers stopped short of guaranteeing permanent, dedicated funding – allowing for funds to be diverted from the LWCF to other projects. This year, President Trump has proposed a 105% cut to LWCF funding – less than zero for public lands.
I still call the American South my home, and living in upstate South Carolina, I can still see the impact public lands have on my fellow citizens and my fellow veterans. Through my work with Upstate Warrior Solution’s Outdoor Adventure Program, I see the tangible impacts of nature’s therapy on veterans. I see, in real-time, the peace and empowerment that comes by tackling a challenging trail or raging river. Losing LWCF funding puts these programs and their benefits at risk.
This is why I was excited to meet with the South Carolina delegation last month to advocate for fully funding the LWCF at the $900 million level originally intended by Congress. I was hopeful leaving the meeting with the offices of Reps. Joe Cunningham and Jim Clyburn, along with U,S. Sen, Lindsey Graham. All three South Carolinians were supportive of the LWCF and assured me that they supported full, permanent funding for the program.
My military service left me with a greater love for my country – for its democracy, for its people, and for its public lands. Join me in contacting your representatives and urging them to vote for permanent dedicated funding for LWCF.
Hao Wu served with the United States Army in Iraq and Afghanistan. After leaving the military, Hao relocated to Greenville and became a startup entrepreneur actively involved with other military veterans in advocating on veterans’ issues and solving them through public/private collaboration initiatives.
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