The CBS Morning show aired a segment titled "Preserving National Parks: Building Homes Where the Buffaloes Roam,” which discussed the fact that there are approximately 12,000 parcels of private land within the national parks. The problem, as portrayed by the segment, is that people are building homes or “McMansions” on these parcels which takes away from the natural beauty of the park. According to CBS, the reason this is happening is because of federal budget cuts, specifically budget cuts to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF); a program CBS describes as a federal program used to protect national parks from development by providing funding for the purchase of private lands inside national parks.
Since this segment focuses on the building of private homes within national parks, it is not surprising that LWCF is painted as only a federal land acquisition program.
Trust me, LWCF is so much more than just a federal land acquisition program.
If you have children or grandchildren who play soccer or baseball, chances are that you have benefitted from a project funded by the LWCF State Assistance Program. Since 1965, this program has provided close to $4 billion in matching funds to states, territories, and local communities by funding more than 41,000 local and state projects in 98 percent of American counties. These projects include building public playgrounds that are ADA compliant, picnic areas, youth sports fields, nature centers, aquatics centers, and so much more. Often these projects are built on land already owned by the city, county, or special park district and more importantly, these types of projects create jobs, attract visitors and businesses to the community, and ensure citizens have places, spaces, and opportunities for physical activity.
This is not a government hand-out, however. States and local governments must match federal funds dollar-for-dollar and then assume responsibility for the maintenance and upkeep of the project. They must also keep the land on which the project sits in public use for perpetuity which means that if a local community uses LWCF State Assistance funds to build a picnic area, that land cannot be developed by a private developer.
CBS is correct that LWCF funding has been drastically cut over the past few years. Unfortunately, this is in large part due to the fact that the program is so often painted as only a federal land acquisition program.
It’s time for all of us to start educating Congress that this program is much more than a federal land acquisition program and rather than simply cut or eliminate funding for LWCF its time for them to invest in state and local projects by allocating a larger percentage of the annual LWCF funding to the State Assistance Program.
Stacey Pine is NRPA’s Vice President of Government Affairs.