Backcountry Advocates Take Their Message To Tampa

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"This is what every pilot is dreaming of, when they go to the airport to learn to fly," said John McKenna, as he watched one slide after another of beautiful wilderness views scroll by on the wall of his group's new display at AOPA Aviation Summit in Tampa this week. McKenna is one the pilots who helped to launch a new nonprofit group, the Recreational Aviation Foundation, to protect access to backcountry landing strips on public lands. This is their first appearance at the AOPA show, and they went all out, with the constant flow of alluring photos, a tent, and a mock campfire set up under some virtual trees to get visitors thinking about just how much they always wanted to get out and explore. The setting reflects the origins of the group, which began with a bunch of pilots sitting around a campfire, and wondering who was going to protect their backcountry access. "And we realized, if it's not us, who's it going to be?" said McKenna. "And if not now, when?" Already the group has a number of successes under its belt, including an agreement to maintain three public-access landing strips in Death Valley that were in danger of being shut down by the National Park Service, and the construction of a new strip on national forest land in Montana. And the group has some new ideas in the works, too.

"Now we're working to raise private money to buy private land and build backcountry strips for public use," McKenna said. Already the group has received a donation of land, 152 acres from Ben and Agnes Ryan, near Glacier National Park, complete with a landing strip already in place.