ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, April 6, 2011) -- The Army Corps of Engineers is supporting President Obama's "America's Great Outdoors" initiative by providing recreation opportunities while protecting and restoring the nation's wetlands and other ecosystems, service officials said.

Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy and leaders of the Army Corps of Engineers helped kick off an "America's Great Outdoors" project last month to restore the Heeia Wetland on Oahu, Hawaii.

Bootsie Howard, a community coordinator on the project in the Hawaiian watershed, summed up Obama's initiative while praising the success of the partnership between local communities and the federal government: "Our goal is to heal the people and heal the land."

So far, America's Great Outdoors events completed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have been in Baltimore, Md.; Charleston, S.C.; and Hawaii, with expected events -- although not confirmed -- in Philadelphia, Pa.; Norfolk, Va.; and Chicago, Ill.

"A lot of people don't realize that our mission is flood control, navigation, and aquatic ecosystem restoration, but in building a dam or creating a reservoir, you're also creating a recreational opportunity as well," said Darcy who, in her role, provides supervision of all aspects of the U.S Army Corps of Engineers' Civil Works program, including conservation and development of the nation's water and wetland resources, flood control, navigation, and shore protection.

For the Army family, which faces the stress of moving every few years to another garrison or the possibility of deployment, half of the installations in the United States are within 59 miles of an Army Corps of Engineer lake, she added.

In fact, the Army Corps of Engineers has stewardship of 12 million acres of public lands and waters at more than 400 lake and river projects in 43 states. Every outdoor recreation activity imaginable is available at one of the Corps' 2,500 recreation areas.

Whenever she's visiting one of her Army Corps of Engineers districts, Darcy tries to combine her visits with outreach to people in the community or a nearby Army facility by visiting the schools and the Child Development Centers on garrisons.

She is also working with the arsenal and garrison Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs to provide more recreational opportunities for military families.

"In the northwest Kansas City district, the Corps partners with Fort Riley's Morale Welfare Recreation program to provide lake-based recreation, watercraft rental, picnicking and camping opportunities for Soldiers and their families," Darcy said.

These opportunities are having a great reception, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers needs to do more, Darcy added.

With his 21st-century strategy for America's Great Outdoors, Obama seeks to preserve "the places that offer us refuge from daily demands, renew our spirits, and enhance our fondest memories, whether they are fishing with a grandchild in a favorite spot, hiking a trail with a friend, or enjoying a family picnic in a neighborhood park," said a White House release on April 16, 2010.

"America's farmlands and woodlands help fuel our economy and create jobs across the rural areas of our country," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, in the same report.

"This plan seeks to work in partnership with landowners, conservation groups, states and others to conserve our working lands and our public lands and to reconnect Americans - especially our nation's youth - with opportunities to stay active," Vilsack said.

"You may be surprised that we have more recreational visitor days than any other agency in the federal government. Annually, 357 million visitors come to USACE (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers). That's more than the U.S. National Park Service or the U.S. Forest Service," she said.

One of the reasons for so many visitor days, Darcy said, is because about 90 percent of the Army Corps of Engineers lakes are within 50 miles of a metropolitan area. So, more people have close and easy access.

"We're kind of in their backyard," she said.

"We also want to expose people in urban areas to what's near them. Here in Washington, D.C., for example, we have one of the largest urban parks, Rock Creek Park," Darcy said. The park contains a wild forest that houses picnic areas, winding trails and bike paths, a nature center, a public golf course, tennis courts and stables.

But how do you connect people to something many don't know exists, or if they know, can't participate in'

"With children spending half as much time outside as their parents did, and with many Americans living in urban areas without safe access to green space, connecting to the outdoors is more important than ever for the economic and physical health of our communities," Nancy Sutley said in the Feb. 16, 2011, report to Obama on the initiative's first year. She is chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

"Through the initiative, this administration will work together with communities to ensure clean and accessible lands and waters, thriving outdoor cultures and economies, and healthy and active youth," Sutley said in the report.

Last summer, senior administration officials from the Departments of Labor, Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, the President's Council on Environmental Quality, historical groups and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration held 51 listening sessions across the country to gather input from Americans about the outdoor places and activities that they value most.

"I was able to go to a couple of those sessions -- one in St. Louis and one in Los Angeles -- and we had people from the community, as well as young people, who let us know some of the challenges or limitations that they're finding in their ability to engage with the great outdoors, as well as take advantage of all of the things that our country has to offer," Darcy said.

The 2010 listening sessions drew more than 10,000 participants and more than 105,000 written comments, shaping an action plan based on local initiatives and support, which when implemented will result in:

-- Accessible parks or green spaces for children
-- A new generation of great urban parks and community green spaces
-- Newly-restored river restorations and recreational "blueways" that power economic revitalization in communities
-- Stronger support for farmers, ranchers, and private landowners that help protect rural landscapes and provide access for recreation
-- The reinvestment of revenues from oil and gas extraction into the permanent protection of parks, open spaces, wildlife habitat, and access for recreational activities
-- A 21st century conservation ethic that builds on local ideas and solutions for environmental stewardship and connecting to America's historic, cultural, and natural heritage

For more information on the Army Corps of Engineers recreation sites, visit

"Wherever you are, you put in your locality and your zip code and it will tell you whatever recreational facility is within your area, whether it's a lake or hiking trail or bike trail or a campsite. We're trying to promote that as part of this America's Great Outdoors initiative," Darcy said.

For more information about America's Great Outdoors, visit'