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Vote Planned to Permanently Authorize Public-Lands Program

Gauley River National Recreation Area is one of the West Virginia spots that has used the Land and Water Conservation Fund. (WikimediaCommons)
Gauley River National Recreation Area is one of the West Virginia spots that has used the Land and Water Conservation Fund. (WikimediaCommons)
February 25, 2019

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Congress could vote this week for final approval of a package of public lands bills that includes permanently reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The popular federal program, which easily passed in the Senate, uses funds from offshore drilling leases to support everything from wilderness areas and historic battlefields to city parks. The fund has invested more than $240 million in West Virginia over the last five decades. Tracy Stone-Manning, vice president for public lands with the National Wildlife Federation, said the fund has had a major impact on Americans' access to the outdoors.

"For over 50 years, this fund has funded things as simple as a swimming pool and a basketball court in an inner city, to protecting wildlife habitat for goats in Glacier National Park,” Stone-Manning said. “It just runs the gamut of projects."

If the current bill is not approved, the program and its protections for parks and open spaces could disappear. In recent years, grants from the fund have gone to New River Gorge National River and Harper's Ferry National Park.

Garett Reppenhagen, a regional director with the Vet Voice Foundation, said many veterans put a high value on public lands, saying outdoor recreation also can be good therapy.

"Military veterans use the outdoors to heal from our military trauma, from our experiences on the battlefield,” Reppenhagen said. “It helps with our post-traumatic stress disorder, and we use the outdoors to bond with our family and friends when we come home from long deployments."

Reppenhagen said continued funding will ensure future generations are able to enjoy the outdoors.

"The funds come from offshore oil and gas revenues, so it's not a burden on the taxpayers,” he said. “This is something that helps American families and Americans use and appreciate our outdoors, and get some time outside - even in our urban areas."

Both Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito have strongly endorsed the bill. They point out that West Virginia's $9 billion outdoor-recreation industry supports more than 90,000 jobs.

More information on the Land and Water Conservation Fund in West Virginia is available here.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV