The Land and Water Conservation Fund is an essential tool for preserving America’s vast and varied landscapes and cultural resources. Because of the Act’s positive and proven impact, Smart Growth Maryland has joined with a number of national partners to call on Congress to make funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund permanent by passing the Great American Outdoors Act as part of the next round of COVID-19 recovery legislation.

Victory: On the evening of July 22, 2020, the House of Representatives approved one of the most significant pieces of conservation legislation in a generation, the Great American Outdoors Act, with broad bipartisan support. Having passed the Senate in June, the legislation is on its way to the President’s desk, who specifically requested the bill for his signature.


The Land and Water Conservation Fund was created by Congress in 1964 and is funded through off-shore drilling leases  – and has been used to support conservation and recreation, funding projects National Parks as well as local ball fields. Since its inception, the LWCF has provided more than $231 million in grant funding to projects in Maryland, with more than $85 million going to state and local parks.

Furthermore, the LWCF support historic preservation efforts by funding the acquisition of historic sites and land through the National Park Service and the American Battlefield Protection Program. In Maryland, the Fund’s impact can be seen across the landscape of the Old Line State – from Assateague Island to the Mount Vernon viewshed to Monocacy Battlefield.

Unfortunately, despite its proven success and benefits, the LWCF is routinely underfunded.

According to the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition, “The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was permanently authorized in 2019, but that does not guarantee that the $900 million put into the LWCF account every year will be spent on conservation. Over the 55 years of the program, billions of dollars have been siphoned from the fund for other non-conservation purposes. In fact, this past fiscal year 2020, only $495 million was appropriated to LWCF—far short of full funding, and yet the highest amount in 15 years.”

Photo from Civil War Trails.

Photo from Civil War Trails.


During the COVID-19 pandemic, Smart Growth Maryland, Preservation Maryland, and others, have strongly linked the importance of open space to the health and well-being of our society – during current safety lockdowns and as part of future recovery efforts. Maryland Matters recently published an op-ed by our Executive Director, Nicholas Redding, Pandemic Shines a Spotlight on the Power of Places to Sustain Us, that includes this call to action: “Until we beat this virus, we must remain distant. But when we can return to our favorite coffee shop, museum or playground, we should remember the value of those places and must support the people, organizations, and leaders who sustain them.  They will desperately need our help to recover, and we should not be shy in showing them our support.

Additionally, outdoor recreation, including walking at historic sites, is a proven economic driver for Maryland with funds come from within the community as well as from visitors coming to Maryland specifically for recreational activities and historic experiences. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation in Maryland annually accounts for these good numbers:

  • Generates $14 billion in consumer spending,
  • Supports 109,000 jobs,
  • Generates $4.4 billion in wages and salaries, and
  • Produces nearly $951 million annually in state and local tax revenue.


Unfortunately, tourism in Maryland has suffered greatly during the last few months of the global coronavirus pandemic. In fact, Maryland ranks 17th in a national survey of state tourism industries hit hardest by the current public health crisis. As Maryland, and the entire nation, begins to look toward recovery, a fully-funded Land and Water Conservation Fund would go far in helping preserve Maryland’s vital natural resources while also providing aid to aspects of the state’s crippled tourism industry.

While there has been overwhelming bipartisan support for the Great American Outdoors Act earlier in the year, the COVID-19 crisis has delayed the timeline. Encouragingly, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently announced that the Great American Outdoors Act will be on the floor for a vote in June 2020 after the Memorial Day recess.

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