America’s Best Parks Program (That You’ve Never Heard Of) Is About to Expire
Pop quiz: Can you name the conservation program that’s helped preserve everything from the Grand Canyon to Civil War battlefields to a neighborhood park near you? If you’re like most Americans, you’ve never heard of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), but there’s a good chance that America’s best parks program helped conserve a place you or someone you know love to visit. That’s because LWCF has invested in more than 40,000 local projects across all 50 states, touching nearly every county in this country. But on September 30, exactly 50 days from now, this 50-year-old conservation fund is set to expire — unless Congress reauthorizes one of our greatest conservation tools.
LWCF is simple in its brilliance — oil and gas money pays for our land, water and recreation areas, leaving taxpayer dollars out of the equation. Here’s how it works: every year, the Treasury deposits $900 million of offshore oil and gas royalties in this fund. It’s then up to Congress, in the yearly appropriations process, to decide what portion of that $900 million will be used to finance projects ranging from George Washington’s Mount Vernon, to spray pools in Chicago, to Antietam National Battlefield.
The breadth of what LWCF has provided to our nation is impressive. For instance, LWCF has purchased over 200,000 acres of land surrounding and connecting the Appalachian Trail, one of America’s longest hiking trails, which traverses over 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine. In fact, LWCF helped acquire a mountain corridor along the crest of the Mahoosuc Mountain Range, often referred to as the Appalachian Trail’s “toughest mile.”
In addition to traditional land conservation, LWCF has preserved historic and cultural sites that tell our unique American story. In Kansas, when Monroe Elementary School — the school attended by Linda Brown, of Brown v. Board of Education — was slated for destruction, LWCF funds were used to purchase the school. Now this National Historic Site is used to highlight the role that Supreme Court decision, which deemed segregation of schools unconstitutional, played in the civil rights movement.
Finally, LWCF provides grants for state and local projects, like neighborhood parks, playgrounds, swimming pools, tennis courts, and sports fields. It’s these vital projects that bring and keep recreation within reach of our backyards. Among thousands of local projects, recently LWCF helped fund repairs to the city swimming pool in Sundance, Wyoming, construct a new t-ball field in Baileyton, Alabama, and renovate a fishing pier in Richmond, California. And while perhaps less glamorous, localities like the City of Elkton in Kentucky have received money to renovate restroom facilities to meet ADA standards. These projects are practical but not trivial. They exemplify the sentiment at the heart of this fund: making recreation available to every American.
As Congress returns to their districts for the August recess, they might take note of LWCF’s success in their state. Americans ranging in background — veterans to Latinos to sportsmen to members of the forest industry — support permanent re-authorization of LWCF. Furthermore, in an often divided Congress, legislation to reauthorize LWCF stands out for its bipartisan support. In fact, earlier this year an amendment to reauthorize the fund nearly passed the Senate but ultimately failed by one vote after three senators switched their votes to oppose the measure.
When Congress returns from their recess in September, they’ll be faced with a choice: they can recommit to America’s future recreation — they can upkeep our historical battlegrounds, our t-ball fields, and our connection to this land — or they can let this legacy atrophy on their watch. Should they choose a permanent re-authorization of LWCF with full and dedicated funding, they’ll have chosen to provide future generations the same kinds of recreational opportunities that we’ve been fortunate to enjoy.