Congress should reauthorize federal program to aid park funding

07/09/2014 5:45 PM

07/10/2014 9:14 AM

Fort Worth residents proved in May just how much they value their parks when they approved — by more than 78 percent — a bond proposal for new park construction and maintenance.

Although the $31.44 million for parks and recreation in the total $292 million bond package was the most ever included in a municipal bond election, there never seems to be enough money to provide all the green space needed for a city growing as fast as Fort Worth.

In the same month that voters passed the bond proposal, the Trust for Public Land issued its annual ranking of the nation’s largest cities based on their park systems. Using a matrix of median park size, easy accessibility, spending per resident, percent of a city’s area devoted to parks and number of playgrounds per 10,000 residents, Fort Worth came in at number 40 out of the top 60 cities in the nation.

Fort Worth, which ranked 33rd last year, came in lower than three other Texas cities: Austin at 33 and Arlington and Dallas, tied for 36th.

Although there are variables, like the city’s massive 350-square-mile area, that make it harder to compare Fort Worth to more densely populated cities, the rankings do point to a need for more parkland and services. That means more money.

Every dollar devoted to parks is important, including the federal funding that the city has come to depend on — like the more than $11 million in federal money for this fiscal year.

One of the federal programs, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, is set to expire in 2015, a point that was highlighted Tuesday by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell during an appearance with Mayor Betsy Price at Fort Worth’s Gateway Park.

It was an appropriate location for their news conference. The first phase of Gateway Park was acquired with an $805,000 grant from the federal fund in 1980.

Overall, Fort Worth has received about $2.7 million from the fund since it was started in 1965. While that may seem like a small amount in the overall park budget, every dollar is needed to continue improving park service.

Congress should reauthorize the program and fully fund it. And it must stop the practice of taking more than half of the fund’s budget and reallocating it to the general Treasury.

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