Vibrant American cities rely on the Land and Water Conservation Fund

Nations that foster livable cities with vibrant populations and skilled workforces are the nations with a competitive advantage in the global marketplace. A well-designed, well-maintained network of city parks is a vital component of any city’s infrastructure and a trademark of a healthy urban environment.

In Denver and Fort Worth, we have a deep appreciation for the value that parks and trails bring to our respective cities. In fact, in metropolitan centers across the country, parks are playing an increasingly critical role in improving the health and economic viability of urban areas. Public parks and trails support public health, economic development and community cohesion.

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Unfortunately, one of our nation’s most effective vehicles for carefully using federal dollars to help develop local urban parks – the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) – is in jeopardy. Congress’ most recent budget bill eliminated all of LWCF’s funding, and it’s at risk of expiring in 2015. This is a major concern for mayors working to make their cities healthier, more livable and more competitive.

Reauthorizing and strengthening the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has sent $4.1 billion to states since 1965, is a key step to ensure that our cities will be sustainable and economically viable in the future. Every federal dollar from an LWCF grant leverages at least one local dollar, and most grants leverage much more. It’s a win-win for mayors across the country concerned about conservation and green space.

That is why we’re the founding co-chairs of the new bipartisan group called Mayors for Parks. The group is a coalition of 7 mayors supporting a national campaign to renew the LWCF.

Without reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund we are putting park projects across the country at risk. The LWCF is the only federal and state partnership program in the federal government that creates and protects key local public parks and outdoor recreation opportunities. And just as the LWCF plays a critical role in supporting urban parks, it is also important to securing and facilitating access to our national wildlife refuges, parks and forests – another enormous benefit of the program.

Over the history of the program, the LWCF has helped fund a total of $8.2 billion toward park projects, resulting in more than 42,000 state and local projects, including parks, playgrounds, urban wildlife refuges, greenways, trails and open space in all 50 states, U.S. Territories and the District of Columbia. Seventy-six percent of the total funds have gone to locally sponsored projects that have afforded recreational opportunities for all of America’s residents, from youth to veterans, senior citizens to the physically challenged.

Just to give some perspective, according to the National Park Service, 98 percent of American counties have a park project funded by the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

As city leaders, our job is to make our communities economically, environmentally and culturally vibrant through, among other things, new and revitalized parks and green spaces. Eighty-two percent of Americans live in or near a city, and research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control shows a clear correlation between easy access to green spaces and likelihood of exercise. Neighborhood parks provide important health and fitness opportunities, and yet, according to the CDC, 80 percent of U.S. Census blocks do not have a park within a half-mile.

For mayors like us, the Land and Water Conservation is already a vital tool for revitalizing our country’s metropolitan areas. We were pleased to hear Secretary of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell speak out strongly in support of a strong Land and Water Conservation Fund in her speech to the National Press Club earlier this month. We ask Congress and all of our elected officials to join with Secretary Jewell to lead the way for the reauthorization and full funding of the LWCF. By making sure that adequate funding is allocated to this critical fund, we can preserve and protect the green space that improves lives. Our communities depend on it.

Price and Hancock are co-chairs of the Mayor for Parks. More information about Mayors for Parks and the full list of supporting mayors may be found at www.cityparksalliance.org/mayors-for-parks.

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