By: Gabe Vasquez
Parks and outdoor recreation are not new for many Latino families, and there’s a growing movement of Latino leaders who are calling for increased access to parks in urban and rural communities.
I grew up visiting Young Park, the place my father taught me to fish for carp and catfish. Visiting the park today, I’m delighted to see many Latino families still fishing, watching the ducks and other wildlife, sitting under a tree having lunch, or walking along the trails and enjoying the exercise. Young park is a space where families can spend time together and pass down traditions like fishing.
In the future, I’d like to propose significant improvements to the park, starting with the infrastructure for the fishing pond. Just recently, several hundred game and non-game fish died because of a mechanical failure – a dying pump -- equipment that will soon have to be replaced that’s not in the city’s budget. One of the best ways to fund park improvements is by applying for funding through the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. I’m working to ensure the city prioritizes applying for LWCF money for improvements for Young Park so the next generation of families can enjoy the fishing and other family bonding experiences.
At neighboring Apodaca Park, LWCF funds have helped improved the park to create a safe and green space where local families can host birthday parties, impromptu soccer games, carne asadas, baby showers, you name it. Apodaca Park was also recently featured in the Hispanic Access Foundation film “Land, Water y Comunidad,” to showcase the impact that LWCF has on creating recreational opportunities for Hispanic communities. The film makes the case that LWCF is one of the most critical tools used to provide Latino, urban and other underserved communities with access to the outdoors.
In fact, LWCF has funded more than 42,000 federal, state and local parks and projects over the last 54 years, including more than 1,200 sites and projects in the state of New Mexico. In Doña Ana county alone, LWCF funds have helped build the LAABS pool, Frenger Park, Pioneer Park, Klein Park, Maag Park, Lions Park, and more.
But much to the frustration of local communities that depend on these funds, the LWCF program may disappear if Congress doesn’t act before it adjourns for the year.
LWCF is not a controversial program by any means, it has strong bipartisan support and is funded by a small portion of offshore oil and gas drilling royalties at no cost to taxpayers. While LWCF funding is capped at $900 million, Congress determines its annual allocation. It’s time for Congress to step up and give more to communities like Las Cruces from what it authorizes to take out of the ground from offshore drilling. Unlike many federal programs, the impact of LWCF to our community is tangible and affects everyone in Las Cruces.
Without a full floor vote, LWCF remains in limbo, and local governments are unable to plan for park improvements. Currently, a chorus of voices across the country, including Latino community leaders, are encouraging Congress to permanently reauthorize the program before Congress adjourns this month.
I am joining that call. We need our elected officials in Washington to permanently reauthorize LWCF with dedicated funding. LWCF has touched the lives of so many in New Mexico – likely by simply having access to parks in our neighborhoods. Our families deserve investment and action in Congress, not more rotting fish at our local ponds.
Gabe Vasquez is City Councilor for Las Cruces District 3