Land and Water Conservation Fund aids Mesa County and this region
By Steve Acquafresca and Tom Kenyon
There are few collaborative projects in Mesa County that span the decades as does the effort to complete the Colorado Riverfront Trail — a grand conservation/transportation vision meant to be enjoyed by multitudes of users from Palisade to Fruita with many connections in between.
The long list of local, state and federal partners, both public and private, is almost breathtaking. Upon completion it will be a one-of-a-kind amenity for our communities, perhaps in the nation. The strategy to complete this ambitious trail undertaking has been to use local-partner resources to leverage outside dollars and inject both into the project.
In August, we celebrated the opening of a new two-mile section of the Colorado Riverfront Trail east of 32 Road that was constructed with the assistance of a matching $740,000 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado. The county also announced in August a $268,000 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado and the U.S. Department of Energy to design a major link from Grand Junction to Fruita.
These are just a couple of recent examples of the county and its local partners continuously seeking opportunities to leverage local funds into grants and other outside contributions in its effort to complete the Riverfront Trail. We will continue to partner with Great Outdoors Colorado, the Department of Energy, Colorado State Parks and other state, local and private contributors to fund this project which adds amenities, jobs, and economic activity at local businesses along the way.
This is also why the Mesa County Board of Commissioners’ recent resolution, MCM 2010-093, regarding the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, was important. In the resolution, the commissioners unanimously asked Colorado’s congressional delegation to support efforts to provide full funding for the fund.
This fund is derived from federal royalties from offshore energy production. The money is transferred to conserve and protect important natural areas on shore.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund has been beneficial to Mesa County and our surrounding neighbors over the years. Between 1967 and 1994, the fund provided more than $7 million that was used for improvements on the Colorado National Monument, at McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area and in Ruby Canyon, on the Grand Mesa Slopes and along the Unaweep Canyon/Tabeguache Scenic Byway. Money from the fund also went to state facilities at Vega Reservoir and what is now the Colorado River State Park. Additional LWCF dollars also helped construct local parks in Fruita and Grand Junction, built tennis courts and helped build the Blue Heron Trail as part of the Riverfront Project.
But recent congressional allocations, at only a fraction of authorized levels, have diminished its impact both here in Mesa County and nationally. The risk of diverting the offshore energy production royalties away from their agreed-upon intent for onshore conservation is that the energy companies are likely to question why they agreed to pay these royalties in the first place if Congress is not sticking to its side of the agreement. It would be a legitimate question and could result in the royalty payers moving to reduce their agreed-upon obligation.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund can be an important additional resource to Mesa County and other local governments as we all continue to leverage limited local funds into amenities, such as the Colorado Riverfront Trail, that add to our quality of life and stimulate economic activity.
Please join the Mesa County commissioners and others in urging Colorado’s congressional delegation to help fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Steve Acquafresca is a local fruitgrower and a member of the Mesa County Board of Commissioners.
Tom Kenyon is the former assistant director of the Colorado Division of Parks and currently serves on the Grand Junction City Council.