By: Jennifer Brandt
One of my first memories of Maryland was playing on the playground at Wheaton Regional Park. This is where I had my first horseback riding experience. It’s where a “middle-school me” spent afternoons ice skating with friends.
But it was only this past year — decades later — that I learned that the park had been supported through the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
LWCF was a 54-year-old government program funded through royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling and is designed to support a variety of projects and developments for parks at the federal, state and local level. It supported more than 42,000 parks and projects around the country. And even though it has received tremendous bipartisan support Congress let it expire at the end of September.
Now, proponents of LWCF are hoping that the 116th Congress will make permanent reauthorization of the program a priority.
Through my work at Hispanic Access Foundation and the development of our new film “Land, Water y Comunidad,” I have been able to visit several communities and LWCF-funded sites across the country. What most people don’t realize is that LWCF sites are everywhere — you’re likely minutes away from one right now. People recognize these places as sites from their childhoods, from places their churches visit, where their schools go on field trips and so on.
My fellow Marylanders will recognize the names of these LWCF sites: Assateague Island National Seashore, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Monocacy National Battlefield, C&O Canal National Historic Park, Calvert Cliffs and Sandy Beach State Parks. More than 330 parks and projects have been funded by LWCF in Maryland to the tune of approximately $223 million.
The most amazing thing about this is that it has used zero taxpayer dollars – funding is provided by a portion of royalties collected from offshore oil and gas drilling. LWCF was passed by a bipartisan Congress in 1964 specifically to make sure that as we extract resources from the earth that we are reinvesting some of those funds into protecting other public lands and recreational activities. LWCF has converted these royalties into places where we can connect with our history, our families, play sports and hike and connect with our natural environment.
Last fall, I went to Capitol Hill to ask U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen to support LWCF’s permanent reauthorization and dedicated full funding — although it’s capped at $900 million, Congress has only allocated full funding to it twice in its history. Both senators co-sponsored legislation to permanently reauthorize LWCF and see that it gets designated funding. But, Congress failed to take a full floor vote, and the fund was allowed to expire.
With the new Congress, it’s important that LWCF gets the opportunity for a vote. While it remains unauthorized, it continues to lose millions of dollars each day that communities are counting on for locally driven conservation priorities (over $230 million total since expiration three months ago). LWCF will bipartisan, majority support in both the House and Senate. Through the encouragement of leaders like Cardin and Van Hollen, as well as if Maryland’s members of Congress like Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-5, stand up for their constituents and encourage a floor vote, Congress could get this done.
This is a priority for the American public — there is no reason it should not be permanently reauthorized now.
LWCF has been critical to our past and by ensuring that future generations of Marylanders and all Americans are able to have equitable access to parks and the outdoors, we can help others have fond memories, like mine, of growing up with a love of nature and an active lifestyle.
Jennifer Brandt is the deputy director of conservation programs for Hispanic Access.