A Quick History of the
LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION FUND PROGRAM
-1964 and All That-
In 1958, increasing consciousness of public health and environmental
issues and an expanding need for recreational space combined into
a bipartisan mandate creating the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review
Commission (ORRRC). After three years of research, the Commission
developed specific recommendations for a national recreation program.
The ORRRC report of 1961 emphasized that State and local, as well
as Federal, governments and the private sector were key elements
in the total effort to make outdoor recreation opportunities available.
The Commission's major recommendation's were:
1) The United States should establish a national recreation policy
to preserve, develop and make accessible to all Americans the
resources needed "for individual enjoyment and to assure
the physical, cultural, and spiritual benefits of outdoor recreation."
2) All agencies administering outdoor recreation resources--public
and private--should adopt programs designed to make the best possible
use of available resources in light of people's needs.
3) Each State, through a central agency, should develop a long-range
plan for outdoor recreation, to provide adequate opportunities
for the public, to acquire additional areas where necessary, and
to preserve outstanding natural sites.
4) An independent Bureau of Outdoor Recreation should be established
in the Interior Department to lead nationwide efforts by coordinating
Federal programs, conducting nationwide planning and assisting
other levels of government.
5) A Federal funding program should be established to provide grants
to States that would stimulate and assist them to meet new demands
for outdoor recreation and to pay for additions to the Federal
Largely as a result of ORRRC's
work, the Kennedy Administration introduced funding legislation
in 1962, during the second session of the 87th Congress. No action
was taken in that Congress, but on February 14, 1963, President
Kennedy again proposed legislation that would establish a "Land
and Water Conservation Fund" to assist States in planning,
acquisition and development of recreation resources and to finance
new Federal recreation lands.
Following Commission recommendations, great emphasis was placed on planning
for future recreation opportunities. In its hearings on the LWCF
bill, Congress defined requirements for Statewide Comprehensive
Outdoor Recreation Plans (SCORPs) that would be a condition of State
Recognizing the rapid loss of the land and water recreation base to development,
one of the proposed legislation's major purposes was to reduce the
lag in recreation land acquisition. The House Interior Committee's
report on the bill stated that "During the first years of the
program, emphasis will necessarily be on planning and land acquisition
activities. It is important that acquisition be undertaken before
the land becomes unavailable either because of skyrocketing prices,
or because it has been preempted for other uses."
The Senate Interior Committee's hearing report addressed the distribution
of grant funds. It said that "in providing outdoor recreation
resources and facilities for the American people, the greatest emphasis
should be given to those areas with large concentrations of people."
Congress clearly indicated that the new Federal program should have a lasting
effect on the supply of recreation sites and facilities by requiring
that sites assisted be added permanently to the national recreation
estate. As a result, Section 6(f)(3) of the Act states unequivocally
that grant-assisted areas are to remain forever available for "public
outdoor recreation use," or be replaced by lands of equal market
value and recreation usefulness.
With vigorous bipartisan support in both Houses of Congress, the bill
was passed and signed into law on September 3, 1964, as Public
Law 88- 578, 16
U.S.C. 460l-4. The Act established a funding source for
both Federal acquisition of park and recreation lands and matching
grants to state and local governments for recreation planning, acquisition
and development. It set requirements for state planning and provided
a formula for allocating annual LWCF appropriations to the States
Initially, three sources of revenue to the fund were designated: proceeds from
sales of surplus Federal real property, motorboat fuel taxes and
fees for recreation use of Federal lands. The level of funding from
FY 1966 through FY 1968 reached about $100 million per year, which
was far short of Congress' expectations. To remedy this shortfall,
it was proposed that Outer Continental shelf (OCS) mineral leasing
receipts be tapped. In 1968, P.L. 90-401 raised the Fund's level
to $200 million a year for five years, beginning in FY 1969, making
OCS revenues available to cover the difference between this minimum
level and receipts from other sources.
By 1970, growing demands on the Fund led to enactment of P.L. 91- 485,
which increased the LWCF again to a $300 million annual level from
FY 1971 through FY 1989. This amendment reveals that Congress' perception
of needs for the Fund program had expanded in three ways: the State
grant program should give more emphasis to urban parks and recreation
areas; the grant program should help acquire and develop recreation
facilities within urban areas, not just nearby; and the Federal
side of the Fund program should also contribute to meeting close-to-home
The Fund's increase in authorized funding to its current level came
with enactment of P.L. 95-42 in June 1977, which increased the LWCF
to $900 million for FY 1978 and subsequent years. Congress also
enacted P.L. 95-625, which created, among other things, the Urban
Park and Recreation Recovery Program (UPARR), as a complement to
the LWCF program. This program encouraged local governments to rehabilitate
existing recreation facilities, demonstrate innovative programs,
and plan for overall revitalization of community recreation systems.
Since 1965, funding for the grants program has averaged approximately $100 million per year, with a peak of $369 million in 1979. In the last 20 years, annual appropriations have decreased to a low of zero funding in 1982 and 1996-1999. However, as a direct by-product of the effort to enact the Conservation and Reinvestment Act, the drought ended in FY 2000 with appropriations that ranged from $140 million in FY 2002 to $28.3 million in FY 2006.
The funding of other high priority Interior programs from the LWCF through the appropriations process has resulted in a decrease in funding for recreation grants in recent years. However, the State recreation grants program remains the only LWCF-funded program that ensures the protection of America's resources in perpetuity. See "Legacies of the Grant Program" below.
Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965
For the LWCF Grants program, over $3.6 billion have been appropriated to the 50 States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Northern Marianas for planning, acquisition and development of outdoor recreation opportunities in the United States. Through FY 2006, over 40,000 projects have been approved to support acquisition of open space for park lands or the development of outdoor recreation facilities. They are in every geographic region of the U.S, in every county, and almost all localities.
Federal grant obligations totaling $3.6 billion have been matched by State and local contributions, for a total LWCF grant investment of $7.2 billion. States have received about 8,300 grants and counties some 5,300 while cities, towns and other local agencies matched more 26,000.
Of the total number of projects, about 10,500 have helped states and localities to acquire some 2.6 million acres of park land, including combination projects where donated land values matched the cost of development. Almost 29,000 projects have been for the development of outdoor recreation facilities. Seventy-five percent of the total funds obligated have gone to locally sponsored projects to provide close-to-home recreation opportunities that are readily accessible to America's youth, adults, senior citizens and the physically or mentally challenged. In addition to thousands of smaller recreation areas, grants have helped to acquire and develop new parks of statewide or national significance such as the Allagash Wilderness Waterway (Maine), Liberty State Park (New Jersey), the Willamette Greenway (Oregon), Platte River park (Denver), Herman Brown Park (Houston), and Illinois Beach State Park (Chicago).
Legacies of the Grant Program
From a historical perspective, LWCF grants have contributed greatly to
the outdoor recreation estate over the past 33 years. It is significant
that a considerable amount of the income going to the Fund has come
about through the leasing of offshore oil rights, thus recycling
an important natural resource back to public use. While one resource
is being used another is being protected.
In addition to the large number of projects, LWCF grants have had substantial
long-term effects on the country's overall attitudes and policies
toward outdoor recreation. The first legacy of this kind is the
notion, basic to the LWCF Act, that States must assume a leadership
role as providers of recreation opportunities.
Today, there is clear evidence that the grant program has been successful
in encouraging States to take greater responsibility for the protection
and development of recreation resources at every level.
The results of State leadership extend beyond simple increases in the
size and number of recreation areas. Among other things, they include
State actions to establish their own scenic river and recreational
trail systems, to recognize the value of recreation resources in
stimulating tourism and other economic opportunities, and to provide
additional financial and technical assistance to local recreation
efforts through State planning, grant, and loan programs. Maryland,
for example, has its Program Open Space to acquire key parklands;
Texas and Minnesota have dedicated portions of their cigarette taxes
to support state and local recreation programs; New Jersey has a
Green Acres program that provides loans as well as grants for local
acquisition, rehabilitation and development.
Second, when the Fund was established, State recreation planning was essentially
non-existent. Statewide recreation planning has come a long way
in 30 years, and has given States and their citizens new tools
to analyze recreation needs and alternatives in a systematic and
responsive way. Indeed, many states now require that local governments
develop recreation plans as a condition for any type of Federal
or State recreation assistance.
The third legacy, and the one with the greatest impact on long-term
protection of recreation resources, is the provision of Section
6(f)(3) of the Act that requires all property acquired or developed
with LWCF assistance be maintained perpetually in public outdoor
recreation use. Consistent enforcement over the years has ensured
permanency of LWCF's contributions to the national recreation estate.
The most tangible evidence of the program in future years will be
the tens of thousands of recreation sites across the country that
remain available for our children and our grandchildren.
In conclusion, the Land and Water Conservation Fund program is building
a permanent legacy for future generations. The source of this legacy
will not always be obvious to the millions of Americans, old and
young, who want places to hike in the woods, swim, play ball, watch
wildlife, picnic, sit under a tree, chase a pigeon or walk the dog.
But the thousands of recreation lands and opportunities created and
protected by the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act will remain
as perpetual monuments to the foresight of its authors and the American