The Fiscal Year Interior Appropriations bill, which Congress passed last night and which the President is soon expected to sign into law, includes $453 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), an increase of $178 million from last year. Additionally, the bill provides $40 million for state matching grants, doubling the amount from last year. The funding increase followed an effort led by U.S. Rep. Rush Holt to increase the funding for the LWCF and its State Assistance program, which provides matching funds to states and communities to preserve open spaces. During his first term in Congress, Holt secured the passage of a key amendment resurrecting the state-side grant portion of the program, and he has since fought to retain and increase funding for it.
"This bill provides the much needed funding to protect and preserve our natural resources for future generations," Holt said. "I especially am pleased Congress deepened its support for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. This funding will help preserve land that otherwise would be sprouting houses and offices."
The LWCF State Assistance program has aided local recreation projects in over 98 percent of all U.S. counties, including the preservation of over 73,000 acres of land in New Jersey alone. This land has been used to clean up playgrounds, build baseball fields, develop waterfront parks, and restore open spaces. This is land that otherwise may have been developed for private use or otherwise rendered unusable.
In the past 10 years, communities throughout New Jersey have received funding from the LWCF. For example, the Swimming River Reservoir in Monmouth County received $3.16 million, South Branch Linear Park in Hunterdon County received $660,900, and Veterans Park in Mercer County received $518,000.
Earlier this year, Holt organized a letter that was to the Chair and Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior requesting increased funding for LWCF. Holt and his colleagues noted the economic value of LWCF grants.
"The development and maintenance of park infrastructure -- recreational facilities, roads, public welcome facilities -- provide quality jobs that our nation needs right now," Holt wrote. "In addition, parks, forests, refuges, and other open spaces support the quality-of-life factors that can make the difference for communities seeking to attract employers and a strong work force."