Park and recreation advocates nationwide were stunned by the president's proposal to terminate the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) state assistance program in the 2006 budget he sent to Congress this February.
NRPA has been one of the staunchest advocates for the LWCF state assistance program through the entire life of the program. In fact, it can be said that the LWCF and the modern-day NRPA were born in the same era, and that NRPA has been in the vanguard of those who recognize the immense importance of this program to the health and vitality of the American public.
No other federal program has done so much to provide public access to outdoor recreation resources-in perpetuity, no less-than the LWCF state assistance program. In the 40-year history of the program, more than 40,000 park and outdoor recreation projects in 98 percent of American counties have been aided by more than $3.5 billion in matching grants.
For instance, in Little Rock, Ark., an old industrial area on a river bank was reclaimed and converted into a 33-acre park with an outdoor amphitheater, fountains, playground and trails. A $1 million LWCF state assistance grant was matched with city funds and the park project was completed in 1982. The success of the park as a community meeting place attracted a private foundation to invest and build a farmer's market, as well as attracting the $160 million Clinton Presidential Library. "LWCF is the one continuity in funding that local government can look forward to each year," says Brian Day, director of Little Rock Parks and Recreation. "Without it, many local governments would have inferior park systems."
In Wakefield, Neb., the small community was able to update the lighting of its major ballfield with help from LWCF, which granted $66,000. "We needed to make sure we could secure those funds before we could move forward [with the project]," says Wakefield Mayor Jim Clark. The LWCF program also assisted in the purchasing of a park picnic shelter, playground equipment and swimming pool.
The benefits of the LWCF state assistance program are manifold and well known to NRPA members. Some of the benefits that are rarely highlighted, however, are the beneficial economic impacts that the LWCF confers on states, counties and localities receiving matching grants. Recreation products, equipment, services and supporting facilities represent one of the most vigorous growth areas in the U.S. economy. Every site acquired or developed through LWCF supports the development of this industry. In addition, the health benefits to the American population offered by LWCF-aided sites, especially those close-to-home parks, trails and outdoor recreation areas, help offset the burgeoning national health care crises in this country. Encouraging a healthy U.S. economy and containing other public costs by "improving the health and vitality of the American people" as the act intended is a legitimate federal responsibility.
While there has been a growing recognition in Congress that termination of the LWCF is inappropriate and unwise-as witnessed by the robust number of co-signers (103 in the House and 43 in the Senate) to a "Dear Colleague" letter sent to members by Sens. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) in the Senate, and Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.), James McGovern (D-Mass.) and Rush Holt (D-N.J.) in the House, there is still no cause for optimism. …