Inslee, Larsen among state & federal officials asking Congress to renew conservation fund

Children and adults play in the water and sunbathe at Clear Lake on Tuesday, June 30. Brandy Shreve / Skagit Valley Herald

The first Land and Water Conservation Fund grant to reach Skagit County came in 1967; the $10,000 went to Howard Miller Steelhead Park in Rockport.

In the 48 years since, projects done on city, county, state and tribal lands in Skagit County have received $2.14 million in Land and Water Conservation Fund grants, which help secure property and advance projects for outdoor recreation across the nation.

But June marked the start of a countdown for those who worry the fund could soon come to an end.

“The fund is set to expire at the of September, which would be a huge loss for conservation in our country,” U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., said in an email to the Skagit Valley Herald.

For his part, Larsen is co-sponsoring a bill to permanently reauthorize the fund.

Emily Linroth, communications manager for the conservation group The Wilderness Society, called the Land and Water Conservation Fund the “most important program for protecting and rehabilitating local and regional parks and recreation opportunities.”

“Many of the local and regional parks, playfields, and boat launches in Skagit County were funded by the Land and Water Conservation Fund, including Saddlebag Island State Park, Little Mountain Park and Howard Miller Steelhead Park,” she said.

The most recent grant received locally — and the largest for the county — was the $239,407.18 given to the city of Mount Vernon in 2003 to expand Little Mountain Park.

Kaleen Cottingham, Executive Director of the state Recreation and Conservation Office, which distributes money from the fund, said she is hopeful that whether the Land and Water Conservation Fund is reauthorized or not, Congress will still find money to fund conservation and recreation projects.

“It’s been an incredible program for the country for investing in our great outdoors,” Cottingham said.

One Skagit County project remains on the Recreation and Conservation Office list for fund approval: The Town of Concrete’s proposed spray park.

In September, town engineer Cody Hart gave a final presentation to the Recreation and Conservation Office in pursuit of grant funding. This April, town officials went to Olympia to lobby for their project.

If it doesn’t make it this year, there is the potential it will get grant money in 2016, whether from a renewed Land and Water Conservation Fund or another source, Cottingham said.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund has funded 40,000 projects throughout the United States, including 581 in Washington.

It has also helped with national recreation projects, including work in North Cascades National Park and along the Pacific Crest Trail that extends from Canada to Mexico.

Gov. Jay Inslee asked Congress to maintain the program in a letter dated June 5.

“I urge you to act quickly to reauthorize the program, at funding levels that meet or exceed the currently-authorized levels,” he said.

A recent economic analysis found that the outdoor recreation industry is an important economic driver in the state, with locals and tourists spending apprbout $21.6 billion each year. According to that report, completed by the outdoors task force Inslee created in 2014, that money supports about 200,000 jobs and accounts for $2 billion in local and state tax revenues.

“Reauthorizing the (Land and Water Conservation fund) will allow for continued federal resources to augment our own state investments in outdoor recreation and will help grow our economy and create a better quality of life for our people,” Inslee said in the letter to Congress.

Larsen, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., are among federal officials who have shown support for maintaining the program.

— Reporter Kimberly Cauvel: 360-416-2199, kcauvel@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kimberly_SVH, facebook.com/bykimberlycauvel

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