The Land and Water Conservation Fund is one of the items on Congress’ to-do list in September, and its supporters are rallying the public in hopes of preventing Washington from letting the fund fade away.
From here at Sugarhouse Park to the Bonneville Shoreline Trail to Zion National Park – the fund’s secured open space for half a century.
Offshore drilling fees generate billions of dollars for it each year. In Utah alone, it’s paid more than $171 million dollars in matching funds for hundreds of projects to improve forest trails, build neighborhood playgrounds, restore wildlife habitat and buy private land inside national parks.
“What it does is it takes property, develops it for the recreational use of the people and earmarks it so that it stays in recreational use forever,” says Fred Hayes, director of state parks and coordinator for the fund in Utah.
A coalition that includes hunters, cyclists, soccer moms and national groups like the Nature Conservancy is pressing Congress to reauthorize the program before it expires at the end of the month. One-hundred-ninety-three House members signed a bipartisan letter urging continued funding last spring, but none of the signers is from Utah.
“Our strategy has been to raise the profile of it to show how important it is and how it impacts people on the ground all over the country,” says Tim Ahern, spokesman for the conservation group, the Trust for Public Lands, “so that they will contact their members of Congress and say, ‘Get this done’.”
Some pending bills seek appropriations for the fund, and others suggest changing it. But Ahern says it’s fate remains uncertain.