Mayors plan to lobby for national park fund

12/25/2013 12:00 AM

12/25/2013 7:14 PM

Mayor Betsy Price will co-chair a national campaign to seek more national funding of parks as Fort Worth faces an unfunded five-year parks need of about $58 million.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund, financed primarily through offshore oil and gas royalties, provides matching grants to state, county and local governments for parks and open-space projects. Fort Worth has received about $4.5 million since the fund was created in 1965, and Texas has received over $500 million.

The fund is scheduled to end in September 2015, unless Congress reinstates it.

“Our major parks like Trinity and Gateway Park are vital components to the infrastructure, public health, workforce development, the local economy, the environment, education and civic engagement,” Price said, explaining why she joined Mayors for Parks, created by City Parks Alliance, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group.

The mayors are not just seeking an extension of the fund, but also want to ensure that all the money committed to the Land and Water Conservation Fund to goes to land and water projects.

Less than 50 percent of the money set aside for the fund have been used for such projects; the rest has been redirected to the general treasury and other uses, especially in recent years.

The last substantial grant Fort Worth received from the fund was $1.69 million for Gateway Park in 1999, according to city records. That grant money was leveraged with an additional $1.71 million for park improvements.

“We have a good track record of success in applying for and receiving land and conservation fund grants. If the act is reauthorized, and the fund appropriations are made to fund it, there is a high likelihood that we will be able to leverage those federal dollars with our local dollars or private dollars,” said Richard Zavala, the city’s director of parks and community services.

Fort Worth has a five-year estimated need of $87.6 million for park infrastructure and improvements but is set to generate only 30 percent of that figure from the 2014 Capital Improvements Program. That $292 million bond, which primarily funds infrastructure, is set to be voted on by the council Jan. 7 and by residents in May.

Price was selected as co-chairwoman of the committee with Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock because of her dynamic efforts to engage residents with health and parks, said Catherine Nagel, executive director of the alliance.

“We were looking for mayors we thought would bring a new voice and heard about the mayor doing FitWorth and doing the rolling town halls, using parks and green ways to address other urban issues,” Nagel said.

The mayors will appeal to their local congressional representatives to fight for the fund, she added. The committee also includes the mayors of Phoenix; Hartford, Conn.; Portland, Ore.; St. Paul, Minn.; and Bozeman, Mont.

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