What is surplus federal land?

Surplus federal land is real property owned and administered by the United States of America (federal government) that it no longer needs. If a federal agency no longer needs some of its land or a building, the General Services Administration first will see if another federal agency needs that property. If not, the General Services Administration can designate the property as "surplus." This property does not include public domain, national forest, or national park lands. Then, the General Services Administration may make the property available to states, local agencies, and non-profit organizations for select public purposes, such as parks and recreation through the Federal Lands to Parks Program.

Can I get surplus federal land?

Only states, counties, municipalities, and similar government entities can get surplus federal land for parks and recreational areas through the Federal Lands to Parks program. No preference is given to any particular level of government.

Private and nonprofit organizations, religious institutions, and individuals are not eligible to acquire surplus Federal land for recreation through the Federal Lands to Parks program. However, they may act as advocates for state and local governments.

The General Services Administration can give information about other federal programs that transfer surplus federal property for other purposes to government entities and non-profit organizations alike.

What kind of surplus land is available?

A great variety of land may be available from any department of the federal government, including military bases, Army Corps of Engineers water control projects, and former Army reserve sites. This land can range in area, containing less than an acre to thousands of acres. The land may be located in rural or urban areas and consist of open space, forests, wetlands, lakes, or shorelines.

The land may contain existing recreational facilities, such as athletic fields, basketball, and tennis courts, fitness centers, playgrounds, and swimming pools. Or, the land and its facilities may be abandoned and in need of repair or improvement before it can accomodate public use. As each community's needs are unique, so is each available property.

Is there property available in my community?

The General Services Administration periodically will issue notices of available property and will notify state and local elected officials and agencies The NPS Regional Managers typically will review these notices and reach out to state and local park and recreation agencies. Communities can also find a list of available properties and learn more about other ways to acquire property from the General Services Administration. Communities also can learn more about military base property available through BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) laws on the Department of Defense's Office of Economic Adjustment Office homepage or reach out to the Local Reuse Authority for the individual military base under BRAC.

How can the land be used?

Land acquired through the Federal Lands to Parks Program must be used for public park and recreational use in perpetuity. It may be developed for one or more recreation activities, or it can be used to support an existing park or recreation area by providing parking or improved access. Properties have been transformed and adapted for a community center, a neighborhood park, a town or city square, or a regional or state park. Typical recreational uses include hiking, biking, camping, picnicking, hunting, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, swimming, boating, tennis, golf, and playing organized sports. If appropriate, the land may remain undeveloped for passive recreational use, such as bird watching, photography, or wildlife conservation, as long as it is open to the public.

How much does the land cost?

The National Park Service generally conveys land through the Federal Lands to Parks Program at no cost in return for the benefits gained by its public use. The applicant, however, is responsible for the costs of preparing the application which can include the preparation of land surveys, title searches, and site development plans. By acquiring property through the Federal Lands to Parks Program, the applicant promises to commit the funds necessary to properly develop, operate, and maintain the property for public park and recreational use, as well as protect natural and cultural resources protected under related federal laws in perpetuity.

Who makes the decision whether we will receive property or not?

The General Services Administration, for most types of federal property, or the Department of Defense, for certain military properties, makes the final decision based on the sponsorship and support of the application by the Federal Lands to Parks Program. The Federal Lands to Parks Program’s role is to provide technical assistance to applicants in this proces. We help develop plans for land use, assure that applicants are capable of developing and maintaining the transferred property for park and recreational uses, and ensure stewardship of important cultural, natural, and recreational resources on the property. NPS must approve the application and recommend the transfer. If the General Services Adminstration (or military, in case of BRAC) approves, the NPS deeds the property.

We acquired property from the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation (or Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service) and need some assistance related to the property. Who do we call?

The Bureau of Outdoor Recreation and the Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service are now abolished agencies. The National Park Service's Federal Lands to Parks Program should be contacted for the properties they originally deeded for park and recreation purposes .

Contact the appropriate Program Manager based on the region you are located. If the property was deeded for "historic monument" purposes, you should contact the National Park Service's Historic Surplus Property Program.

Can we turn property we got from the FLP program for one type of facility into something else?

Yes, probably, if the intended use is public recreation. However, each case is unique. Contact the appropriate regional Federal Lands to Parks Program Manager to discuss what you have in mind.

You will be asked to send a cover letter that explains the need for the change, a concept plan and, if warranted, a proposed amended use plan ("Program of Utilization" for what you would like to do with the property. The amended use plan should include details like budget, time for completion, environmental impacts, etc. The Regional Manager will work with you and determine if the new or changed uses are eligible.

What if we now want to use the transferred property for something else instead of public parks and recreation?

If the holder of the deed wants to use the property for different recreational uses than agreed to in the original application, they may request the Federal Lands to Parks Program’s approval to amend the original use plan. For example, a local park agency may decide the open space is needed more as a public golf course.

However, if you no longer wish to maintain the property as public parks and recreation, then it may be:

- transferred back to the federal government, at the discretion of the Department of the Interior and the General Services Administration.

- replaced with another suitable property with the same or greater value and recreational utility. (his option is preferred as it would maintain or increase state or local park and recreation opportunities.)

- changed to another federal public benefit conveyance program that is suitable to the proposed new use(s), if eligible and accepted by the other public benefit conveyance program, such as for education, public health, emergency management, or law enforcement.

- purchased at fair market value.

Last updated: March 18, 2021