For over half a century, Americans have enjoyed a program that contributes approximately $20 billion into protecting land in nearly every county in the U.S., helping to support more than 42,000 state and local park projects including playgrounds, trails and open spaces, and improving access to the great outdoors for all Americans — accomplished with no cost to taxpayers.
It almost sounds too good to be true, and unfortunately, it may not be true much longer unless Congress renews the Land and Water Conservation Fund before it expires on September 30. With it would go this country’s best promise to protect our public outdoor spaces and our cultural heritage.
Enacted into law in 1964, LWCF provides funding for the acquisition and management of federal, state and local public lands nationwide so that all Americans can enjoy access to the outdoors — and in a wonderful compensation improving local economies and community well-being. It is the only federal program devoted to the continued conservation of our national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, wilderness, Civil War battlefields and developing state and local parks.
Remarkably, LWCF does not cost taxpayers one dollar — it is funded using a small portion of the royalties paid by oil and gas companies to drill offshore. The fund is authorized for $900 million annually, but that has occurred only once since its inception.
Ensuring access to the outdoors for everyone is more than just a concept; it’s our Colorado way of life. It’s a value that every community, people and culture hold dear. As a Mexican American and native Coloradan, I believe the conservation of our land is a central value of our heritage for generations. In fact, recent results of a poll from the respected Colorado College Conservation in the West bear that out in six western states, showing that 75 percent of Latino voters support continued funding of the Land and Water Conservation. Simply put, protecting our land preserves our nation’s history.
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In our home state of Colorado, LWCF has been a huge benefactor over the past five decades, contributing approximately $268 million to places like the Rocky Mountain and Great Sand Dunes national parks and hundreds of state and local park projects, including acquisitions at Golden Gate Canyon and Roxborough State Parks — investments that have helped to shape Colorado’s impressive $28 billion annual outdoor recreation economy.
The City and County of Denver alone has received nearly $4 million in LWCF grants that have supported over 75 projects; $1.2 million of LWCF money was invested along the South Platte River, which began a renewal of Denver’s downtown that continues today. If you’ve ever visited Confluence Park or Denver’s popular Washington Park, then you have enjoyed the benefits provided by the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
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These city parks and others provide a wonderful place to gather with the extended family, eat and enjoy recreation together. Physical activity for our children is critical and, as such, the protection of parks, enabled by LWCF, should be a high priority for all people — no matter the zip code.
We are all fortunate in Colorado to have both senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner fully on board with permanently authorizing LWCF. With only weeks remaining before the expiration date, now is the “do or die” time for the rest of Congress to get on board and keep the bipartisan promise made to protect America’s public lands, water resources and cultural heritage. Without the certainty of LWCF renewal, Americans everywhere will be deprived of current and future opportunities to enjoy our Great Outdoors, whether that is a wildlife preserve or a community ballpark.
At zero cost to taxpayers, why would any member of Congress want that to happen?
Born and raised in Denver’s westside, Paul D. Lopez has been a Denver city councilman for District 3 since 2007.