Congressional Acts

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 grants.

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. 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 and Territories.

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, Public Law 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 Public Law 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 recreation needs.

The Fund's increase in authorized funding to its current level came with enactment of Public Law 95-42 in June 1977, which increased the LWCF to $900 million for FY 1978 and subsequent years. Congress also enacted Public Law 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.

The LWCF expired on September 30, 2015, but it was extended for 3 years in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016, until September 30, 2018.

On March 12, 2019, the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act was signed by the President and is now Public Law 116-9. As one of the largest conservation bills in recent history, this law permanently reauthorized the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

On August 4, 2020, the Great American Outdoors Act fully and permanently funded the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Published as Public Law 116-152, the Great American Outdoors Act provides $900 million per year to invest in conservation and recreation opportunities across the country.

LWCF Overview, Funding History, and Issues

Last updated: December 15, 2022