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Conservation funds help local parks

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POLSON – With the impeachment proceedings concluded, Senate lawmakers look to press forward with the business of the country. 

One such piece of business currently under consideration in the Senate is legislation that would permanently authorize and completely fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund program.

The bipartisan LWCF program was created in 1964 to work on local, state and federal programs to preserve and safeguard natural areas, enhance access to public spaces and maintain outdoor recreational infrastructure by utilizing proceeds from royalties paid by oil and gas companies drilling offshore.

While $900 million of non-taxpayer money is annually deposited into an account solely for the purpose of funding the LWCF, Congress is tasked with authorizing and allocating those funds for conservation projects, but the full annual amount has never been appropriated in the program’s full history.

Sponsored by U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, Democrat, and U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, Republican, the bill that is currently sitting before the Senate would permanently authorize and completely fund the LWCF program. 

On Wednesday morning, Jan. 22, representatives from the Montana Wilderness Association, the Polson business community and the Parks and Recreation Department held a field tour highlighting park projects within Polson city limits that have benefited from past LWCF funding and to show their support for the current bill. 

The tour was led by Jacob Foster, a public lands field organizer for the Montana Wilderness Association, which is an outdoor advocacy group pushing for the bill’s passage. Foster said that the LWCF has contributed more than $600 million dollars to outdoor projects in Montana that strengthen our communities, protect access and recreational opportunities, and provide sustainable jobs for Montanans across the state. 

Foster added that 30 Lake County sites ranging from playgrounds, pickleball courts, baseball fields, local and state parks and numerous fishing access sites all have benefited from LWCF funding.

Over the past few decades, the City of Polson Parks and Recreation Department has applied for funds through the LWCF to help assist in projects that may have gone uncompleted due to department budgetary shortfalls. 

 “Outside funding is especially crucial in a town like Polson,” said City of Polson Parks and Recreation Director Pat Nowlen. As he spoke, he stood in front of O’Malley Park, which is a site that received $34,800 from LWCF for park improvements. 

Nowlen and his staff maintain several properties in Polson, including parks and baseball fields, funded on an annual budget from the city that is under $275,000. LWCF funding helps assist in maintaining and upkeep of the parks after the summer rush puts a strain on services.

“The parks are very popular in the summer. We have less than 5,000 people who live here permanently, but in the summer, we have about 14,000 here, and it’s hard to accommodate them,” Nowlen said. 

The final stop on the tour was at Salish Point. A joint project between the City of Polson and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes is located at the point that received over $17,000 worth of LWCF funding back in 2007 to assist with the development of the site.  

“I really love what they’ve done here,” said Wendi Arnold, who operates a local Polson business. “It used to be an area where people dumped stuff, but now, there is a designated swimming area, people can fish and it has been great for business.”

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