Land and Water Conservation Fund fosters collaboration

By Paul Nelson and Jeff Wendland

Perhaps you enjoy some of Mesa County’s prized outdoor opportunities at Colorado National Monument, McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, the Grand Mesa Slopes, or along the Unaweep-Tabaguache Scenic Byway

Maybe you get away from it all at Island Acres, Vega Reservoir and Highline Lake or enjoy an urban getaway around Connected Lakes or on the Blue Heron Trail. You might occasionally splash around in the Orchard Mesa Pool or take in an event at the Mesa County Fairgrounds.

What you may not know is that more than $7.5 million in funding for those facilities and others in our community came over the years from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Perhaps our new congressman, Rep. Scott Tipton, didn’t know that either when he voted earlier this month for a proposal to strip funding from that key source of money for many important outdoor projects.

Thankfully, that amendment failed after the Republican chairman of the House Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies and the ranking Democrat on that subcommittee both urged a “No” vote. Thirty-three Republicans joined Democrats in defeating the amendment to zero out the Land and Water Conservation Fund budget.

The federal taxes we pay don’t figure into the Land and Water Conservation Fund. All the money in the fund, now nearly a half-century old, comes from royalties from offshore drilling in a deal negotiated with the industry when Congress put the Land and Water Conservation fund on the books during the Lyndon Johnson administration. Back then, it was decided that a portion of the royalties from federal offshore leases should be earmarked for enhancement of public lands and recreational opportunities onshore.

It’s a program that has served us well over the intervening years and deserves to be continued.

That’s probably why the Mesa County Commissioners voted unanimously a few months ago to support full funding for the fund.  Commissioners in La Plata and Garfield counties joined them, as did the Rifle City Council, the Glenwood Springs City Council and the Carbondale Board of Trustees.  Prior to that, representatives of many Colorado government, recreation and outdoor organizations made the same request in a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Here in Mesa County, the value of the Land and Water Conservation Fund is tallied in more than dollars or acres. Because money from the fund rewarded the collaborative effort that went into creating the McInnis Canyons NCA, we now will have enhanced community support for similar efforts as the Friends of McInnis canyons expands to become the Colorado Canyons Association and coordinates public involvement in the Dominguez-Escalante and Gunnison Gorge NCAs.

If, as proposed, state allocations were restored to the Land and Water Conservation Fund’s budget for federal projects, there could be opportunities to seek funding to enhance other local cooperative efforts, such as the collaboration taking place between Mesa County, Palisade, Grand Junction and Fruita to create a trail system linking the “string of pearls” making up the James M. Robb/Colorado River State Park.

Whether you hike, bike, camp, hunt and fish, ride an all-terrain vehicle, enjoy driving trails in your four-wheel-drive vehicle, take in a Riverfront concert in Fruita, or just like to occasionally turn your gaze to the slopes of the Grand Mesa, your lives have been enhanced by the Land and Water Conservation Fund. We hope you will join us in urging Rep. Tipton to recognize that and support the fund at every future opportunity.

Paul Nelson is a former Grand Junction City Council member who has long been active with the Riverfront Foundation.

Jeff Wendland is a member of the Board of Directors of the Colorado Canyons Association, formerly the Friends of McInnis Canyons.

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