History of the LWCF

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is intended to create and maintain a nationwide legacy of high-quality recreation areas and facilities and to stimulate non-federal investments in the protection and maintenance of recreation resources across the United States. Initially authorized for a 25-year period, the LWCF was extended for another 25 years and expired September 30, 2015. The fund was temporarily extended for 3 years in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016, and expired September 30, 2018. On March 12, 2019, the Land and Water Conservation Fund was permanently reauthorized, and on August 4, 2020, the Great American Outdoors Act fully and permanently funded the LWCF.

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 recommendations 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 recreation estate.

LWCF Congressional Acts


Last updated: December 15, 2022