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Land and Water Conservation Fund
Land and Water Conservation Fund

​From parks to playgrounds, wilderness to wetlands, bicycle paths to hiking trails, LWCF has helped communities nationwide acquire nearly seven million acres of parkland, water resources and open space. 

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was established by Congress in 1964 to create parks and open spaces; protect wilderness, wetlands, and refuges; preserve wildlife habitat; and enhance recreational opportunities.  LWCF has underwritten the development of more than 38,000 state and local park and recreation projects in nearly every county in the nation.

The need for a mechanism like LWCF first became apparent in the 1950s, when a shortfall in federal funding threatened to limit protection for places where Americans could experience and enjoy the outdoors.  

In 1962, President Eisenhower's Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission recommended that Congress should establish a source of funding to safeguard important natural areas and provide outdoor recreation opportunities for all Americans.

In 1965 the Land and Water Conservation Fund (P.L. 88-578) was enacted into law, and since has been authorized to continue through 2015. 

In 1968, Congress made offshore federal oil and gas drilling lease revenues the primary source to fund LWCF, and in 1977 increased the amount of funds available to up to $900 million per year.  Congress has an uneven history of annual LWCF appropriations, seldom reaching the fully authorized amount of $900 million.  

LWCF monies are apportioned to the states by the Secretary of the Interior each fiscal year in accordance with the apportionment formula contained in the LWCF Act.    

In Colorado, annual apportionments have ranged from $0 (1996-1999) to nearly $5.4 million in 1979.  In recent years, Colorado's annual allocation has been approximately $1.5 million.   

The Land and Water Conservation Fund has two components:

  1. A federal program funds the purchase of land and water areas for conservation and recreation purposes through four federal land management agencies – the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management.

  2. A state matching grants program provides funds to states for planning, developing and acquiring land and water areas for state and local parks and recreation facilities.  Funds appropriated annually by Congress through the National Park Service for this program are divided among the states.


In Colorado, LWCF state matching grants are administered by Colorado State Parks.  The current policy of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commision is to divide the annual Colorado apportionment 50/50 between projects sponsored by eligible local governments and projects sponsored by Colorado State Parks. Since 1965, nearly 1,000 grants totaling more than $58 million have funded local government and state park outdoors investments statewide.

In recent years, State Parks has worked with local government parks and recreation leaders to utilize the State Trails Program Grants Process to grant LWCF funds.

This process is consistent with statewide surveys that continue to rank community and regional trail systems among Colorado’s highest priority outdoors needs.

These priorities are documented in the Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP), which State Parks publishes every five years in order to remain eligible for annual congressional appropriations of LWCF funds.  

Become familiar with Colorado's Land and Water Rules and Regulations​. 

Further information about the Land and Water Conservation Fund can be found on the National Park Service Web site.​