Created in 1964 with strong bipartisan support, LWCF has helped protect America’s greatest treasures: from national parks of outstanding beauty, such as the Grand Canyon National Park and Saguaro National Park, to historic sites embodying our nation’s past, such as the Gettysburg Battlefield and Monroe Elementary School in Kansas – the school attended by Linda Brown of Brown v. Board of Education.
LWCF has successfully safeguarded countless acres of natural resources, greatly enhanced access to public lands, preserved our historical legacy, and supported local economies by boosting tourism. To this day, LWCF has helped protect more than 100 national battlefields, supported over 42,000 parks and recreation projects across the country, in addition to protecting more than 2.2 million acres of national parks.
Yet, it might be LWCF’s lesser known support of local communities, their parks, and the tourism and recreation economies that have been the most impactful. It has supported the development of facilities – sports fields, swimming pools and cultural centers – the expansions of parks, trails and outdoor activities and the maintenance of numerous sites. Its reach is so extensive – it has touched nearly every county in the country.
In fact, more than 700 parks and projects in Arizona, like South Mountain Park in Phoenix and Chaparral Park in Scottsdale, have been supported through LWCF. In total Arizona has received $235 million through LWCF with $60 million being used for state and local programs. Maricopa County alone has been the beneficiary of $28.8 million of those state-level funds.
During July’s sixth annual Latino Conservation Week, which was celebrated with more than 150 events nationwide and nearly a dozen in Arizona, thousands of Latinos enjoyed our nation’s public lands, including LWCF sites, and learned about stewardship. LWCF sites were home to Arizona events too. The organization Mi Famila Vota took participants to Montezuma Castle National Monument to explore the legacy of Verde Valley, while Las Vegas church Centro de Adoración Familiar took congregation members to Davis Camp in Bullhead City to expose their youth to the outdoors and perform baptisms in the Colorado River.
It’s also important to note that LWCF doesn’t cost taxpayers a dime. LWCF funds are generated primarily through offshore oil and gas royalties. The purpose of the program was to ensure that as we extract natural resources, we should in turn invest in protecting other natural resources, like public lands and waters. While LWCF doesn’t cost taxpayers, its annual allocation is capped at $900 million and must be authorized by Congress, which has fully-funded LWCF only twice in its 54-year history.
The Senate and the House overwhelmingly supported the permanent reauthorization of LWCF earlier this year, but work is still being done to pass legislation that will secure permanent, full funding for the program.
In the meantime though, Congress still needs to step up. Senators Martha McSally and Kyrsten Sinema supported the bill for permanent reauthorization of LWCF and now they need to make sure that it is permanently funded so the numerous LWCF-supported public parks of Arizona are accessible now and for future generations. We have a moral responsibility to take care of our public lands, and LWCF is an essential, cost effective tool in doing so.
Maite Arce is the founder, president and CEO of Hispanic Access Foundation, a national nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.