A project in every county in the country! 40,400 grants over the past 40 years. A four-dollar return on every one dollar invested! 880,000 recreational jobs created! All without a single tax payer dollar being spent! Is this to good to be true? No, it is simply the work of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a very real program within the Department of the Interior via the National Forest Service (NFS). Established with bipartisan support in 1964, the fund invests earnings from offshore oil and gas leases to preserve our national resources. It is currently offering the Land and Water Conservation Fund State Assistance Program so that states, Native American tribes, and local governments can acquire land and water for public recreation.
The LWCF State Assistance Program
The LWCF State Assistance Program provides funding to states, which then pass along grants to Native American tribes and local governments, to acquire, and/or develop lands and waters for parks and other public outdoor recreation uses. Projects that either develop or renovate existing outdoor recreation facilities are also eligible. In addition, certain state agencies may apply for and receive awards to prepare or update Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plans (SCORPs), which are required to be eligible for the program. Supported projects include:
- Community parks
- Picnic areas
- Swimming pools
- Sports fields
- Restrooms in recreational facilities
The LWCF Impact
Investigate the LWCF site to find the projects they have helped fund through their various programs, including those highlighted below:
- Lolo National Forest, MT - After a 10,000-acre-plus fire in 2013, the Fund bought private undeveloped land near the town of Lolo to help reduce the risk to the town from future fires. Consolidating land in the wildland urban interface to be publicly managed makes for more efficient wildfire management and prevention, saving firefighter lives and taxpayer dollars.
- Bizz Johnson Trail, CA - Helping to complete the longest rail-trail in California is just one of the ways the LWCF supports the rails-to-trails movement.
- Paul C. Jones Working Forest, MA - A conservation easement preserved timber jobs, wildlife habitat, biodiversity, clean air and water, and public recreational access.
- Gas Works Park, Seattle, WA - An abandoned industrial gas complex reinvented itself to become a multi-use urban park, and one of the most beloved amenities in Seattle.
- Monroe Elementary, Topeka, KS - In addition to its conservation efforts, the Fund also preserves sites of cultural and historical significance. It was instrumental in transferring the former Monroe Elementary School in Topeka, KS, to the National Park Service in order for it to become the Brown vs. Board of Education National Historic Site.
- Nez Perce National Historic Park, MT - Bear Paw is the place where Chief Joseph gave his famous speech and is significant in the 1877 struggle for freedom of the Nimi'ipuu (Nez Perce)* people.
Applying for the LSCF State Assistance Program
States and Territories - Eligible applicants are state governments as well as as well as American Samoa, DC, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Matching funds are required. The deadline is February 2, 2018. Additional application windows may be open March-April and June-July. Before submitting an application, it must be reviewed by the National Park Service. A list of NPS offices can be found here.
Native American Tribes, Local Government Agencies, and Nonlead State Agencies - Each state has a designated lead agency that is responsible for soliciting proposals from other state agencies, Native American tribes, and units of local government. The lead agencies decide which projects best meet the needs identified in their Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plans. They then advance the top applicants to the National Park Service. Each state has its own requirements and deadlines for the submission of project proposals. A list of lead state agencies may be found here.
The Current Status of the Land and Water Conservation Fund
The LWCF is set to expire on September 30, 2018. Bill H.R.502, which is being cosponsored by 218 members of the House of Representatives from both political parties seeks its permanent reauthorization.
* The names of many of the Native American tribes that we are familiar with are not the original names the tribes had for themselves, but what European explorers and settlers mistakenly called them. Nimi'ipuu means "we the people."