Saturday is National Public Lands Day and admission is free to any of the nation’s parks. If you’ve been meaning to enjoy the great outdoors, you may want to go while your favorite spot is still in good shape. From the park around the corner to Nevada’s national recreation areas, the places we play are in danger of losing federal protections and the funding that goes with it.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has supported more than 42,000 parks nationwide during the last half-century, is set to expire at the end of September. In Nevada, the fund has invested $60 million to upgrade the Lake Tahoe basin, Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, Valley of Fire State Park, Lake Mead National Recreation Area and the Red Rock National Conservation Area, according to Outdoor Nevada, a non-profit dedicated to promoting recreation throughout the state. Another $40 million in state assistance grants from the LWCF have benefitted Sunset Park and the Springs Preserve in Las Vegas.
Dog parks, tennis courts, basketball courts and baseball fields — all have benefitted from the fund. O’Callaghan Park in Henderson, Freedom Park and Lorenzi Park in Las Vegas have each received more than $300,000 from the LWCF. Wetlands Park has received more than $200,000 for improvements and the Boulder City Veterans Memorial Park made $100,000 in upgrades paid for by the fund.
Outdoor recreation is big business in Nevada, generating $12.6 billion annually and providing 87,000 jobs, many of them in economically isolated areas, according to the Outdoor Nevada Business Coalition. The expiration of the fund could threaten jobs, say experts. According to the Department of Interior, every dollar invested in outdoor recreation generates four dollars for the economy. The fund is not sustained by public money but rather from offshore drilling royalties. While it enjoys support from both parties, some congressional members disagree on the amount of funding provided and whether authorization should be permanent.
A recent survey of business owners in western states, including Nevada, reveals 80 percent support the LWCF. Senator Dean Heller has championed the fund in the past. His position now is unknown.