By: Chela Garcia and Loretta Pineda
The federal Land and Water Conservation Fund has provided the funding necessary over the past 54 years for underserved communities and families to enjoy access to the outdoors and open spaces. These are families that typically have less opportunities to visit national parks whether because of cost, distance, or time.
In fact, LWCF has funded more than 970 parks and projects in Colorado providing approximately $268 million that has benefitted places from federal sites like Rocky Mountain National Park and Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site to various state and community parks throughout Denver and Colorado. All of this has been done at no cost to taxpayers — LWCF is funded through a small portion of offshore oil and gas drilling revenues.
Yet, even with such tangible results — more than 42,000 sites and projects have been funded, touching nearly every county in the country — Congress allowed the program to expire at the end of September; the Senate failed to reauthorize it this week. Now, the pressure is on for the new Congress to save LWCF early next year.
LWCF helps maintain and improve infrastructure for places like Barnum Park and Aurora Reservoir, where families like ours can barbeque, host baptism parties, or celebrate birthdays. This federal program is also important to help preserve culturally rich local parks such as Aztlan Park, which is a great source of pride for the community.
This year Environmental Learning for Kids in partnership with the Trust for Public Land and the City and County of Denver opened Montbello Open Space Park. Montbello is a community that for years has not had enough green spaces and access for families and kids to get outside, play, and just be kids. Funding through LWCF was critical to not only to the initiation of the project but in securing matching funds from other charitable donors and grants. Its role in helping communities across the Colorado develop green spaces and help urban communities secure access to the outdoors is paramount.
The Montbello Open Space Park will not only host ELK’s Nature Education Center, but it is also projected to serve more that 42,000 youth and families annually. The park will provide the neighborhood with access to an open space with native gardens, educational kiosks, walking trails, a climbing boulder, and interactive nature play spaces. Without the support from LWCF these experiences and opportunities would be drastically inaccessible and underfunded in urban communities such as Montbello.
This is why the potential loss of LWCF is even more troubling. It isn’t some vague government program where it’s easy to debate the benefits. You likely live mere minutes from a site supported by LWCF where it helped to acquire land for the space, build new facilities like a sports field or help renovate existing infrastructure like bathrooms. LWCF is everywhere, you just don’t realize it.
Yet, there is still hope. Congress could still take action and not only reauthorize the program, but also do it permanently and fully fund it at the maximum cap of $900 million annually.
Historically, LWCF has garnered bipartisan support and that’s true now. Both Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Michael Bennett (D-CO) have signed on as cosponsors and have been major proponents for saving the program in Washington. Reps. Scott Tipton (R-CO-3), Mike Coffman (R-CO-6), and Diana DeGette (D-CO-1) have signed on as cosponsors to show their support.
These elected officials should be commended for their LWCF support. It’s time for other elected officials in Colorado and the nation to recognize the impact this program has had for their constituents and secure LWCF for the future.
Chela Garcia is Director of Conservation Programs for the Hispanic Access Foundation. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org Loretta Pineda is Executive Director of Environmental Learning for Kids. Contact her at email@example.com.