Land, Water Fund In Peril

August 20, 2018 GMT

I was raised in Cleveland in the ’40s and ’50s, overlooking the steel mills, about one-quarter mile from where the Cuyahoga River caught on fire. There were no public parks nearby, no playgrounds, no neighborhood swimming pools. My ballfield was an abandoned field next to a busy highway. But the landscape for public outdoor recreation changed dramatically in 1964 when, with bipartisan support, Congress created the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The LWCF was established to “…preserve, create and ensure access to outdoor recreation facilities so as to strengthen the health of Americans.” For 54 years, the fund has used a small portion of federal offshore energy revenues to buy and preserve public lands, purchase angler and boater access, swimming pools, ballfields, local parks, national parks and historic sites. There are no tax dollars in the fund. After moving, my wife and two boys and I made up for lost time by fishing, camping, hiking, kayaking and enjoying nature all over our great country. Our trips to iconic places like the Grand Canyon, Everglades National Park, Acadia National Park, and Grand Teton National Park, were some of our family’s best outdoor experiences. And we never knew those special places were created or supported by the LWCF. The LWCF was established to compensate for the damage that oil and gas drilling would do to the Gulf of Mexico, which has been enormous. Since there are no taxpayer dollars in the LWCF, it is puzzling that Congress refuses to spend these funds for the purposes for which the fund was created. Each year, more than $900 million has gone into the fund. Congress has appropriated full funding to support conservation and recreation projects only once diverting the remainder of the money elsewhere. More than $20 billion of the $48 billion that should have been used to build parks, hiking and biking trails, or acquire conservation easements, and recreational opportunities, has gone into the black hole of the treasury. The LWCF has benefited communities in every state, with more than 41,000 projects funded. Pennsylvania has been especially blessed. The list includes the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area, Fort Hunter and Wildwood Park in Harrisburg, Allegheny Landing Park in Pittsburgh, boat ramps in Erie, 16 parks in the York city area and more than 40 parks, pools and playgrounds in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area. The projects help drive the nation’s $887 billion recreation outdoor industry. Moreover, many of the 7.6 million jobs the Outdoor Recreation Association says are directly attributable to outdoor recreation are in rural communities and gateway areas to national parks, monuments, and forests. Without congressional action, this wonderful program is set to expire Sept. 30. Therefore, it’s urgent to contact our federal representatives and demand they permanently reauthorize the LWCF with full funding so that we can create and protect those special places that are so important to all of us.