Imagine America without scenic vistas or historic sites. These physical touch stones define American Exceptionalism, and remind us who were are and why we are.
One of the reasons our defining landscape remains mostly in tact is the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). On September 30, this Fund vanished. Lack of Congressional action allowed this fund to expire and with it countless opportunities to preserve uniquely American places threatened by sprawl and short-sighted development schemes.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund is funded by a small percentage of federal oil royalties from offshore drilling in public waters. No tax dollars are involved.
Each year, four percent of $20 billion collected in offshore royalties is deposited in the LWCF account in the federal treasury. It is less than the rounding errors across the Federal Budget. It is less than one quarter of one percent of the annual documented waste throughout the Federal Government.
Over its 50-year history, LWCF has protected land in every state and supported over 41,000 state and local park projects. It pays dividends well beyond preserving what makes America America. Outdoor recreation, natural resource preservation, and historic preservation activities provide a powerful building block in our national economy that supports 9.4 million jobs and contributes a total of $1.06 trillion annually to the U.S. economy, according to the National Fish and Wildlife Federation.
West Virginia is an excellent example of what the LWCF can do. West Virginia has received approximately $241 million in LWCF funding over the past five decades, protecting places such as the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, Monongahela National Forest and New River Gorge National River.
The Outdoor Industry Association has found that active outdoor recreation generates $9 billion in consumer spending in West Virginia, 91,000 jobs which generate $2.4 billion in wages and salaries, and produces $660 million annually in state and local tax revenue.
There are amazing stories behind these numbers — here is one.
In the late 1980’s, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (HFNHP) was threatened on all sides. Neighboring Loudoun County, Virginia, was the fastest growing county in America. Developers looked to land around HFNHP for intensive development. They hoped the Loudoun real estate boom would spill over Loudoun Heights and create a deluge of new housing and strip malls. The developers saw riches on the hallowed ground where Americans fought and died during the Civil War. Access to the Washington, D.C., MARC commuter trains trumped historic preservation.
In March 1988 a small group of concerned local citizens met with the Superintendent of HFNHP. The result was chartering Friends of HFNHP as the official Friends Group for the Park. Its mission was to preserve precious historic and scenic resources before the bulldozers arrived.
Senator Robert Byrd became the “patron saint” for the preservation forces. He funded a Resource Study that defined core battlefield land (where troops actually engaged in fighting and tactical movement) and buffer lands that preserved the vistas and maintained the contextual integrity of the many battles fought in the area.
The study, adopted after extensive scholarly documentation and public meetings, became the new “battle map” for the preservationists.
What followed was forty separate preservation projects over thirty years. Twenty six successful legal and regulatory actions stopped developers from destroying earthworks, and blighting vistas with townhouses, apartments, subdivisions, strip malls, and in one instance, a strip club. In their place is now over 1,500 preserved acres in three states, which were ultimately transferred into the National Park system.
The preservation battles in the Harpers Ferry area all banked on the Land and Water Conservation Fund being all or part of the final financial arrangements. In some cases, the LWCF allowed the Friends’ group and its partners to outbid developers for unspoiled farmland. Willing sellers desired their legacy to be open land, not concrete and vinyl. In other cases, legal actions slowed or stopped developers, forcing them to the bargaining table.
Through it all, the LWCF was the financial “cavalry” that would arrive just in time to acquire land or reimburse preservation partners who were holding land in trust.
Today, 500,000+ visitors, from all over America and the world, can roam one of the nation’s most fully preserved battlefields. Countless travel and history rankings list Harpers Ferry as the top historic and scenic community in the U.S. None of this would have been possible without the tireless commitment of local citizens, the hard work of preservation and conservation groups, and the LWCF.
Permanent reauthorization, and full dedicated funding, of the LWCF will ensure other communities have this same access to vital preservation resources for facing current and future challenges.
Scot Faulkner is the best-selling author of: "Naked Emperors: The Failure of the Republican Revolution." He also served as the first chief administrative officer of the U.S. House, and was director of personnel for the Reagan campaign and went on to serve in the presidential transition team and on the White House staff. During the Reagan administration, he held executive positions at the FAA, the GSA, and the Peace Corps. Read more of Scot Faulker, Go Here Now.
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