Much More than Wilderness: How LWCF Invests in American Cities

Jul 16, 2015

By Center for Western Priorities

This is the second in a series of posts about the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is set to expire in September 2015 unless Congress takes action. Previously: How LWCF Protects the Pacific Crest Trail.

In the heart of downtown Denver, Confluence Park has revitalized a once-neglected industrial area where the South Platte River meets Cherry Creek. On any given day, you’ll find shoppers, runners, and even kayakers enjoying the park’s trails and whitewater. Upscale lofts and shopping have drawn thousands more residents and visitors downtown, and a block away the newly-renovated Union Station has become a hub for both transportation and dining.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund was crucial to the area’s redevelopment. According to the City Parks Alliance, $1.2 million in early LWCF grants led to over $2.5 billion in funding from both public and private sources — a 2000-to-1 return on the federal investment.

The fact that LWCF provides so much money for urban parks is critical to understanding the breadth and diversity of this important conservation program. Some politicians have tried to sow fear and uncertainty by claiming the LWCF is designed to expand the federal footprint. In reality, it provides a very important source of funding for close-to-home recreation opportunities. In fact, the law already gives Congress the ability to allocate 60% of LWCF funding to these types of “stateside” projects. If that funding dries up, so will a critical source of cash for urban renewal.

Of course, Colorado isn’t the the only state that has hugely benefited from LWCF’s urban funding. Across Nevada, urban LWCF projects large and small tell a similar story:

  • carson fishing

    Baily Fishing Pond, Carson City

    Carson City used $130,000 in LWCF money to create a 1-acre urban fishing pond that’s stocked with rainbow trout and has a handicap-accessible fishing pier.

  • In North Las Vegas, the Cheyenne Sports Complex used more than $100,000 from the LWCF to provide tennis courts, baseball fields, and a lighted track for the public.
  • Reno’s Terrace Sports Complex and Double Diamond Park both exist thanks to LWCF grants.

People who live close to parks are more likely to use them. Kids who play outside early in life are more likely to participate in outdoor recreation for the rest of their lives. But American children spend half as much time outdoors as they did 20 years ago, and America now has one of the highest childhood obesity rates in the world. Because it funds so many urban projects, LWCF plays a crucial role in reversing that trend while keeping Americans young and old healthy.

Look at every state in the nation, and you’ll find urban parks that were created using LWCF money:

  • Gas Works Park, Seattle

    Gas Works Park, Seattle

    Seattle’s iconic Gas Works Park was once an abandoned industrial complex; now it’s home to 19 acres of fields and public art.

  • Nashville used LWCF funding to help create Riverfront Park, the centerpiece of its downtown revitalization.
  • In Salt Lake City, LWCF grants helped connect Sugar House Park to multiple trails and a nearby business district; those connections have led to over $200 million in new economic development.

The LWCF helps accomplish all of this without using any taxpayer dollars. It’s funded through fees on offshore oil drilling. A study by the Trust for Public Land found that for every dollar spent on the LWCF, communities get four dollars in economic benefit. That’s why it’s vital to permanently renew the LWCF rather than let it expire this September.

Read more about the LWCF and urban parks from the City Parks Alliance.

Photos: Confluence Park by Kent Kanouse, CC BY-NC 2.0; Baily Fishing Pond, City of Carson; Gas Works Park by Joe Mabel, Wikimedia Commons