10/13/2018 - While the Trump Administration is rolling back clean air and water standards and allowing drilling, mining and timbering on national park and forest land, yet another long time bi-partisan conservation program - the Land and Water Conservation Program - was not renewed by Congress, much too busy with politics. The State of West Virginia has long been benefited from the program. - Bob Weaver


By John McCoy GAZETTE Staff Writer 9/23/2018

Not many people know about the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and that's a pity.

If they knew, chances are the fund wouldn't be in any danger. As things stand, though, Congress has a week to reauthorize it. If they don't, it will expire Sept. 30.

I've seen the LWCF described as "the best federal program no one knows about." That's a pretty apt description. Millions of Americans have reaped its benefits, but precious few have any idea what paid for those benefits.

Congress established the fund in 1965 to provide direct funding and matching grants so federal, state and local governments can acquire land and water "for the benefit of all Americans."

Cost to taxpayers? Zero.

The money comes from fees paid by companies engaged in offshore oil and gas drilling. Congress historically has diverted a lot of that money to pay for other programs, but in some years as much as $900 million has gone into the fund.

Usually it's one-third to one-half that much, but $300 million to $450 million is still a lot of money. Here in West Virginia, LWCF funding has helped pay for the National Park Service's development of the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and literally hundreds of smaller projects.

In the Charleston area alone, the fund has paid for developments at Coonskin Park, Kanawha State Forest, Little Creek Park, St. Albans City Park, Cato Park and Shawnee Park.

Statewide, the fund has paid for development or land acquisition at Cacapon, Holly River, Pinnacle Rock, Cathedral, Tygart Lake, Babcock, Chief Logan, Bluestone, Watoga, Canaan Valley and Pipestem state parks, among others.

At a meeting I attended recently, a member of the state Tourism Commission credited the LWCF for creating "just about every river access point" along the New River.

In city and town parks throughout the state, LWCF money has paid for swimming pools, playgrounds, relief stations, trail development and other recreation-related facilities.

All that money has come in the form of federal grants more than 40,000 of them that were matched by state and local governments. In the program's 53 years, it has generated more than $4.1 billion for state and local projects nationwide. With the required one-to-one match, that's $8.2 billion worth of touchable, tangible benefits to people engaged in outdoor-related recreation.

Those include 10,600 grants that purchased land for parks and recreation facilities; 26,420 grants that helped develop recreation facilities; and 2,760 grants to redevelop old facilities.

With all that going for it, why in the heck is the program in danger of going away?

Well, like many of the federal government's funding mechanisms, the LWCF has to be reauthorized from time to time. It's been in danger before, but Congress has always found a way to keep the program going.

This time might be different.

Despite strong bipartisan support for the LWCF, the current political climate in Washington is so highly polarized that reauthorization bills and other minor measures get lost in the shuffle. Supporters of the LWCF fear that if it is ever allowed to expire, Congress might lack the political will to resurrect it.

That would be unfortunate.

On second thought, unfortunate is too mild a word. For West Virginians who enjoy outdoor recreation, it would be a genuine loss. Without LWCF grants, our local governments would have a difficult time paying for the facilities we need to improve our quality of life.

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