SCRANTON — As a heavy downpour erupted from the sky, members of several conservation groups and legislative officials took shelter under a pavilion at McDade Park.
The same pavilion was paid for by a fund they are now hoping to save.
The federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses royalty payments from offshore oil and gas drilling, has funded projects across the country and 1,500 in Pennsylvania related to parks, historical sites and outdoor recreation. The fund is set to expire Sept. 30 unless it’s renewed by Congress.
Aside from building pavilions to provide shelter from the rain, the fund has benefited just about every county in the state when it comes to places to enjoy the outdoors, according to Ed Perry, Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“It’s called the best conservation fund the public has never heard of but so many projects right here in northeastern Pennsylvania have benefited from it,” Perry said. “It needs to be permanently re-authorized.”
Representatives for U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey — who were both out of the area attending the funeral for Sen. John McCain — spoke in support of the fund during last week’s press conference.
Bob Morgan, deputy chief of staff for Cartwright, pointed out the fund, which has been in existence for 54 years, doesn’t use any taxpayer dollars for projects, which include protecting drinking water reserves, preserving natural resources and promoting outdoor recreation. Morgan added that outdoor recreation alone generates $1 billion in economic activity in every year in Cartwright’s district.
“We should not have to fight this hard for every Land and Water Conservation Fund dollar. We should permanently re-authorize the fund,” Morgan said.
House Resolution 502 would re-authorize and fully fund the program, which has resulted in $364 million in spending in Pennsylvania. Morgan said the resolution is ready to be moved but has yet to be scheduled for a vote.
“The funding mechanism should not be controversial since no taxpayer dollars are used,” he said. “It’s puzzling to me why every municipality and parks department isn’t talking to elected officials in support of this fund.”
‘Real need for this’
In Luzerne County, the LWCF has contributed money to help purchase State Game Lands and state parks, improve numerous municipal parks and trails, plus helped with many other projects.
Kristin Magnotta, regional director for Casey, said the senator is committed to doing all he can to re-authorize the fund and she urged the public to voice support for the program to legislators.
“We keep track of that. Issues that generate attention get more leverage because there’s a real need for this,” Magnotta said.
On the federal side, the fund has been used to benefit the Appalachian Trail and Gettysburg National Park. For state projects, the fund is administered by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which doled out $5 million this year, according to DCNR Deputy Secretary for Conservation and Technical Resources Lauren Imgrund.
Seventy of Pennsylvania’s 120 state parks have received LWCF funding, Imgrund said.
The fund was also used to help create the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Monroe County in 2008 and the Lackawanna River Heritage Trail. Projects like those generate outdoor recreation opportunities that aid local communities, according to Rob Shane of Trout Unlimited.
“As an angler, it’s a testament to what protecting land and protecting water can provide,” Shane said. “These local economies depend on people coming through their towns while they hunt, fish, hike and paddle.”
Margaret Wilson, of the Appalachian Mountain Club, said there is bi-partisan support for the fund, which makes it surprising it has yet to be re-authorized. She called the LWCF the biggest financial contributor to open space in the nation.
“It’s an open space preservation program and it does so much more by aiding parks, wildlife refuges, battlefields and trails,” Wilson said. “This fund helps provide access to outdoor recreation to so many across the country.”
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky