One of the casualties of the current congressional paralysis is that even when the two sides agree on something, they can’t get it done.
That’s the case with the recent expiration of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) after decades of funding recreation access and public lands acquisition in West Virginia. More than any public spending, LWCF has enabled the brand known as Wild and Wonderful.
You might not know about the Land and Water Conservation Fund, but if you enjoy public lands in West Virginia, you should.
If you hunt or fish in the Monongahela National Forest, paddle in the Gauley River National Recreation Area, or work for a rafting company on the New River, you can thank LWCF. Ditto if you have vacationed at Canaan Valley State Park or watched the bird migrations at Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, or hiked or golfed at Cacapon State Park.
Over the decades, the fund has brought $233 million to West Virginia — including $45 million in grants to the state for parks, forests and wildlife areas.
The Outdoor Industry Association has found that active outdoor recreation generates $7.6 billion in consumer spending in West Virginia. It supports 82,000 jobs that generate $2 billion in wages and salaries, and produces $532 million annually in state and local tax revenue. The U.S. Census reports that each year over 994,000 people hunt, fish, or enjoy wildlife-watching in West Virginia, contributing $905 million in wildlife recreation spending to the state economy.
LWCF has helped buy recreation land, create access through trailheads and visitor centers, and ensure that disabled people, including disabled veterans, can enjoy access to public lands.
All public access points along West Virginia’s Lower and Middle Gauley River, which is used by over 50,000 people annually, were made possible by LWCF funding. LWCF has also protected 57,000 acres in the Gauley River and New River Gorge Recreation Area that includes not just river access but over 2,000 named rock-climbing routes.
It has funded protection of the remnants of 19th and 20th century mining towns in the New River Gorge. These historic sites protect unique West Virginia heritage and diversify the base of visitors to the area. Roughly 1.2 million visitors enjoy these two parks annually, bringing $53 million to the local economy and directly supporting more than 700 jobs — just from these sites.
Angie Rosser is executive director of West Virginia Rivers Coalition, a statewide nonprofit organization supporting fishable, swimmable waters.