Kieran Balazs: Why I Vote

As part of our Gear Up to Vote effort, we asked our employees, members and partner organizations to share what motivates them to vote. This Why I Vote perspective reflects the opinion of Kieran Balazs, sales lead at the Salt Lake City, Utah, store.

The home of my childhood sat quite alone in a forest of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir, up a small valley about 10 miles west of Helena, Montana. From the top of the granite-strewn ridge that rose a half mile and 600 feet above, you could see the crest of the Continental Divide five miles to the west, the Gates of the Mountains (described by Lewis and Clark) far to the north where the Missouri River carves through the Big Belts, and beyond that, the edge of the Great Plains. Hiking up to this ridge and its views, you crossed the edge of our property a few feet above the house along an old irrigation ditch and set foot onto a square mile of land managed by the Department of Interior, specifically the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). If one continued southwest along the crest of the ridge toward the higher forests and meadows on the flanks of Black Mountain (and eventually the Divide itself), you left the BLM at a sagging log fence and entered the domain of another federal agency: the Helena National Forest, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Every step of this journey past the irrigation ditch took place on land owned by the American people.

For as long as I can remember, I made no distinction between our land and the public land beyond. Heck, it was my literal backyard; no fences intervened. Later, when I moved away from Montana to the urban landscapes of Denver, and now Salt Lake City, the feeling of ownership came with me. Public lands are mine—a place where I can go, almost always free of charge, to recreate in; to relax in; or to spend time with my child, my wife, my dog or simply myself, quiet and alone on the ridges that frame my adulthood. Though I often hike alone, I’m not some curmudgeon elitist; these lands are yours too. Every acre of federal land, BLM, forest service, national parks. Everyone reading this. Your land.

In an age of accelerating wealth inequality in our country, public lands are the most equitable thing we have left.

I vote to preserve and manage these lands for the enjoyment of all Americans. I vote because I want my daughter to experience the same (or better) access I had and continue to enjoy. I vote because of the view from my childhood backyard and from the Utah summits of my adult one. But mostly, I vote so every American, regardless of geographic residence or income, can step foot in a forest, field, lakeshore, beach or mountaintop and say, “This is my land.”

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