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Renewing the “Land and Water Conservation Fund” will help outdoor heritage

By Staff | Dec 11, 2015

West Virginia, true to our “Wild and Wonderful” reputation, hosts an abundance of awe-inspiring attractions. Walking through historic Harpers Ferry, hiking Seneca Rocks and Monongahela National Forest and spotting wildlife at the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge are just a few outdoor experiences that West Virginians enjoy in our backyards.

Our state draws more than a million visitors each year. West Virginia’s robust outdoor recreation industry generates $7.6 billion in consumer spending. The industry is responsible for 82,000 jobs. Its workers earn more than $2 billion in wages. The industry also accounts for roughly $532 million in state and local taxes.

Recreation industry dollars give many West Virginia communities Harpers Ferry, for example – the means to keep businesses open, keep tourists visiting, increase property values and meeting annual budgets.

Since 1965, the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund has provided money to help protect and enrich West Virginia’s extraordinary outdoor locations and ensure access for hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreational activities. Money from this fund has been vital to our state’s tourism industry, and therefore, to our state’s economy.

The bonus factor is that the fund uses no tax dollars for its revenue source. All funds come from fees that oil companies pay to drill off our shores each year.

To date, West Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District has received $92 million in Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars. This money has directly sponsored 114 projects, including a host of Eastern Panhandle initiatives, such as the Appalachian Trail at Harpers Ferry, Shepherdstown’s National Conservation Training Center and Harpers Ferry National Historic Park.

Jefferson County is a prime example. It has received $300,000 in Land and Water Conservation Fund grants that have been utilized at the state or local level.

Once again, all of this economic return is produced through a federal program that does not use a dime of our tax dollars. Congress, however, has failed to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund this year, putting all of these incredible outdoor benefits in jeopardy.

Some in our congressional delegation have been doing whatever it takes to enhance recreation opportunities across our state. What it will take is action in Congress this year. Senator Capito and Senator Manchin have already pledged their support for the clean reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund as it was previously established. I encourage Representative Mooney and the rest of the congressional delegation to follow their example and support this essential source of funding for our community and state. It would be important political leadership from Representative Mooney especially, since he sits on the House committee that will decide the Land and Water Conservation Fund’s fate.

Our entire congressional delegation needs to do the right thing by permanently reauthorizing and fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund as it was previously established and rejecting any effort to replace it with a weaker alternative. The people of Jefferson County need this funding source, and West Virginia’s economy relies on the tourism industry it supports.

John Reisenweber

Executive Director

Jefferson County Development Authority