As a country, our national parks, green spaces, and outdoor recreation are part of our urban and rural identity. Simply put: Parks and green spaces build stronger communities.
As the clock winds down on the 115th Congress, lawmakers will be considering three pieces of legislation that could improve the ways our communities, state governments, and the National Park Service fund and manage local parks and green spaces.
Legislation Aims to Enhance Parks
Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership Grant Program (ORLP)
The first of these pieces of legislation — the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership Grant Program Act (H.R.2943) — aims to protect a program that supports park development in urban areas.
ORLP provides annual competitive funding to communities for the development of outdoor recreation opportunities for the public. Recently, ORLP grant funds were allocated to states for distribution on a project-by-project basis. If enacted, this legislation would formally authorize this important initiative that enhances access to parks and access to recreational opportunities in neighborhoods and communities.
In 2017, U.S. Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.) introduced legislation, with bipartisan support, that would formally establish and fund a competitive outdoor recreation grant program under the Department of Interior. APA endorsed the bill and called on planning advocates to show their support to elected officials.
In recent weeks, there has been movement in the Senate to support ongoing House efforts. APA is committed to supporting Senator Kamala Harris's (D-Calif.) Outdoors for All Act (S. 3499), OLRP's Senate counterpart. APA also signed on to a national letter urging senators to cosponsor. The bill was introduced this week, which means this is the perfect time to take action.
Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act
Our national parks currently face $11.607 billion in deferred maintenance orders. The Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act would drastically reduce this backlog by taking a portion of the federal government's income from onshore and offshore energy production for a fund to pay for maintenance for the National Park Service.
This legislation would secure much-needed updates to the infrastructure and facilities our national parks rely on. House and Senate bills, which both have bipartisan support, were recently introduced and a vote is likely in the coming weeks. APA signed on to a joint letter urging members of Congress to invest in our national parks.
Land and Water Conservation Fund Reauthorization
The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is a 52-year-old landmark law that represents a bipartisan commitment to protecting natural habitats — providing all Americans with outdoor recreation opportunities.
Funded by offshore oil and gas, this fund is used to secure public access to existing federal public land for hunting grounds and recreational fishing areas. LWCF also provides states, local governments, and communities with the resources necessary to improve recreational access to public land and wilderness conservation.
With bipartisan support, both the House and Senate introduced reauthorization legislation this session. Currently, both pieces of legislation have officially moved out of committee.
The House version (H.R. 502) incorporates a provision that guarantees the allocation of a minimum share of LWCF funding to state and local projects. The Senate version (S. 569) makes LWCF spending permanent, dedicated, and mandatory.
APA is calling on members of Congress to support reauthorization, dedicated funding, and guaranteed minimum share for state and local programs. With the bills officially out of committee, this is an opportune time to take action. Annually, APA engages in advocacy related to securing full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Advocate for Parks
Parks and green spaces provide our communities with the means for recreation, events, and retreats. These vital areas are meant to breathe nature into community spaces and preserve the natural wonders that enhance the communities we live in.
Parks and green spaces play an important role in the planning community, and APA will continue to watch for opportunities for advocates to join us in advocating for parks and funding for communities that rely on these spaces.
Top image: Forest Park in St. Louis. Photo courtesy Forest Park Forever.
About the Author
Derek Segers is APA's government affairs associate.