On a blustery morning over Veteran’s Day weekend, I walked along the shores of nearly frozen Evergreen Lake with my wife and in-laws who were visiting from Ohio.
After we paused to take pictures of the lake and foothills — which looked spectacular after a blanket of fresh snow fell the night before — a hawk circled overhead as we headed back to the car.
On the way, we noticed a sticker on the park’s information display indicating the park received funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
While little known, the Conservation Fund is America’s most successful parks and public lands program. The Conservation Fund was signed into law in 1964 with the simple idea to take a small portion of the proceeds from offshore oil drilling and invest them in our parks and public lands for future generations to enjoy.
This fund and the resources provided to Colorado could disappear if Congress doesn’t take immediate action.
Over its half-century in existence, the Conservation Fund pumped more than $16 billion into improving parks and public lands — from local parks like Evergreen Lake to our national parks and national forests.
In Colorado, more than $268 million has gone to supporting more than a 1,000 projects in nearly every community across the state — benefiting Colorado’s $62 billion outdoor recreation economy.
Of those 1,000 projects, communities from Pueblo to Steamboat and Rifle to Aurora, and nearly everywhere in between, have received funding for swimming pools, reservoirs, trails, and ballfields at local parks.
In East Denver’s Montbello neighborhood, an open space park recently welcomed a new climbing boulder — another project supported by the Conservation Fund.
But it’s not just local neighborhoods that have benefited from the program. Some of Colorado’s most spectacular public lands and National Parks have as well. Rocky Mountain National Park, the White River National Forest and the Great Sand Dunes have all received Conservation Fund support, opening new trails, providing for protected wildlife habitat for sportsmen, and granting new river access to anglers.
Earlier this year, Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner, and Rep. Scott Tipton, celebrated a new addition to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park near Montrose.
The Black Canyon features 2,000-foot vertical cliffs carved by the Gunnison River through the western Colorado landscape. The new addition will provide for more recreation opportunities, protected wildlife habitat, and other potential improvements for the park, which welcomes 300,000 visitors annually.
Unfortunately, the Conservation Fund expired on Sept. 30, even with support from a majority of the House of Representatives and nearly a majority of the Senate. Congress simply did not take action in time to renew the program due to gridlock on other issues.
Every day the program lies dormant, American families lose out on $2.4 million in funding that ought to be going to support our parks and public lands. After two months of expiration, we’ve lost out on $156 million and counting.
The Conservation Fund is so popular that it enjoys strong support from nearly all members of Colorado’s congressional delegation — the only outliers being Reps. Doug Lamborn and Ken Buck who are not co-sponsors of LWCF legislation (Though they should be!).
In the waning days of the 115th Congress, our elected officials should reauthorize this incredibly popular and much-needed program. There will be lots of discussion in the coming weeks about funding the U.S. government and passing a budget. The Conservation Fund should be part of those discussions.
Congress should give us all an early holiday present by permanently reauthorizing and providing robust dedicated funding for our most successful parks program — the Land and Water Conservation Fund — so future generations of families can enjoy places like Evergreen Lake and the Great Sand Dunes National Park.
Jim Ramey is the Colorado State Director for the Wilderness Society.
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