After the stress of the holidays, where will you spend your free time this year? From Valley Forge National Historical Park to Marsh Creek State Park, the Delaware Valley offers countless options for getting outdoors, having fun with friends and family, and learning about our national heritage.

However, you may be surprised to learn that not all the land within park boundaries is forever protected. Some remains privately owned and at risk of inappropriate development.

While many of the private owners would like to sell their land or put easements on it to ensure lasting protection, park managers often lack the necessary funds. In fact, the National Park Service would need more than $2 billion to protect its top priorities inside national park boundaries - about 1.8 million acres nationwide.

Without that funding, national treasures such as Valley Forge will remain vulnerable to inappropriate development. Over the last 10 years, Valley Forge has been threatened by three separate development proposals that would have paved over historic land and open space.

One way to protect such land is through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has helped protect thousands of acres of park and forest land in Pennsylvania alone, including Gettysburg National Military Park and Hibernia County Park in Chester County. Signed into law in 1965, the fund draws its money from royalties for offshore oil and gas drilling. Unfortunately, though, money designated for it has been diverted to other programs.

That's a mistake. Besides promoting good health and learning, parks help the economy. Fishing, hunting, and wildlife observation in Pennsylvania alone generated more than $4 billion in economic activity in 2006, according to a survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Parks provide additional social and economic benefits by protecting forests, watersheds, wetlands, and drinking water.

Congress can renew its original promise to America's parks by passing the Land and Water Conservation Authorization and Funding Act of 2009, which would permanently and categorically dedicate oil and gas royalties to the land and water fund at its authorized level of $900 million a year. The legislation would help ensure that our local and national treasures stay protected and unimpaired for our children and grandchildren.