Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)

The Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965 (Act) was enacted by Congress in 1964 "to strengthen the health and vitality of the citizens of the United States" through planning, acquisition, and development of land and water outdoor recreation facilities. A trust fund was created to collect receipts from several sources (chiefly from outer continental shelf oil leases) from which Congress would annually appropriate funds to be distributed among the states and territories.

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In 2019, Congress voted to reauthorize the LWCF permanently in the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act (S.47). This was a definitive statement in support of the LWCF as a unique program dedicated to the protection of our recreation lands and outdoor places. In 2020, The Great American Outdoor Act (GAOA) was passed to provide full permanent funding to LWCF.

Congress intended this investment of public funds to be permanent. The retention requirement is the cornerstone of the Act. Section 6(f) of the Act requires all funded lands to be retained and used solely for outdoor recreation in perpetuity.

SEC. 6(f)(3) No property acquired or developed with assistance under this section shall, without the approval of the Secretary, be converted to other than public outdoor recreation uses.

Responsibilities cited in Title 36, Part 59 in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) apply to the area described on the 6(f)(3) boundary map and/or as described in other project documentation approved by the National Park Service (NPS), the federal agency responsible for administering the grant program. 

Post-completion responsibilities

Post-completion compliance responsibilities apply to each area or facility for which LWCF assistance is provided, regardless of the extent of assistance in the park. The chief requirements are to post a funding acknowledgment sign at the park entrance, maintain and operate the facility to be safe and to invite public use, and to retain the lands solely for outdoor recreation in perpetuity.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Parks and Trails Division is responsible for compliance and enforcement of these provisions for both state and locally sponsored projects. In addition to a final inspection, grant personnel from the division conduct post-completion inspections of each LWCF site every five years to ensure the terms of the grant agreements are being followed. Any changes to assisted sites must be approved in advance.

When non-outdoor recreation facilities or uses are put on LWCF 6(f) land, you must go through what is called a conversion. Section 6(f)(3) of the Act states:

The Secretary shall approve such conversion only if he finds it to be in accord with the then existing comprehensive statewide outdoor recreation plan and only upon such conditions as he deems necessary to assure the substitution of other recreation properties of at least equal fair market value and of reasonably equivalent usefulness and location.

History of LWCF in Minnesota

The LWCF state grants program has had a large impact on the outdoor recreation infrastructure of Minnesota. It has made investments of more than $81 million, most of it during the late 1960s to mid-1980s, in the state’s outdoor recreation system for close-to-home recreational opportunities. The federal dollars have leveraged more than $81 million in matching state and local dollars. Adjusted for inflation, the total investment is in the hundreds of millions of dollars, funding projects in 157 DNR-managed outdoor recreation units; three Minnesota Historical Society recreation sites; three University of Minnesota recreation sites; and over 800 hundred local government park and trail projects throughout the state. This investment has created a permanent legacy of parks and trails throughout Minnesota.

The LWCF in Minnesota supports a state program and a local program, each getting 50 percent of the federal appropriation. The state program supports the acquisition and development of the state outdoor recreation system as defined in Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 86A. The local program, funded through the outdoor recreation and natural and scenic areas grant programs, provides matching grants to local units of government for acquisition, development and/or redevelopment of outdoor recreation and natural areas. 

  • See a list of all grant-funded parks. This list includes not only sites funded by LWCF but also those that received state recreation grants to local governments that have similar retention requirements.

State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan

To be eligible for LWCF funding, each state must prepare a Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) that identifies recreation issues of statewide importance and the actions the state will take to address them. These plans must be updated every five years. Minnesota's current SCORP covers the period 2020-2024. Proposed projects for the outdoor recreation grant and the natural and scenic areas grant programs are assessed to ensure that they are consistent with identified priorities established in SCORP.

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