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Wash. Celebrates 50 Years of Recreation, Conservation Funding

PHOTO: From Mt. Rainier to a community pool or athletic field, hundreds of Washington sites have benefited from Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars. The fund was created by Congress 50 years ago this week, but is set to expire in 2015. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.
PHOTO: From Mt. Rainier to a community pool or athletic field, hundreds of Washington sites have benefited from Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars. The fund was created by Congress 50 years ago this week, but is set to expire in 2015. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.
July 24, 2014

SEATTLE - The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has touched lives in every county of Washington, and the fund officially turns 50 years old this week.

On the anniversary of the vote that created it, Representative Dave Reichert joined a group of lawmakers to tout the benefits of the fund for their states.

Offshore oil and gas developers pay into LWCF, with the money divvied up among states for local recreation and conservation projects. Reichert told a crowd on Capitol Hill that Washington state wouldn't be as "clean, green or pristine" without this funding.

"It plays an integral part in our economic survival, in our economic recovery, and in the happiness and welfare and education of our children," says Reichert. "This is an integral piece to the puzzle of having a productive, healthy life."

Reichert pointed out the LWCF has also helped make Washington a destination for tourists from around the world. The fund has supplied some of the funding for projects to improve public access to locales from Mount Rainier National Park to the Columbia River Gorge and the Pacific Crest Trail.

But not all of the projects funded with LWCF dollars are major tourist attractions. Marguerite Austin, manager of recreation and conservation grants with the Washington Recreation and Conservation Office, which administers the grants, says the smallest projects can be the most important to their area.

"Most communities in our state have a park, pool, trail, playground, athletic field or something built with grant monies through this program," she says. "We have projects that, if not for this program, would never have gotten done."

The Land and Water Conservation Fund was a bipartisan effort when it was created in the 1960s, and while the fund has been renewed over the years, it is set to expire at the end of 2015.

Organizations including the Wilderness Society, Nature Conservancy, and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers have created a coalition to push Congress to reauthorize the fund, and just released a report to mark the 50th anniversary of the fund's passage in Congress.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA