Advocates decry dip in US aid for parks

 

By Faiz Siddiqui, Boston Globe

Along miles of walking paths at Franklin Park, bumps, cracks, and potholes leave the crumbling pavement nearly unwalkable. Century-old oak trees wither in a 220-acre forest overrun by invasive plants. Splintered picnic benches lie in the grass.

Parks advocates say such public spaces as Boston’s largest park are in dire need of funding to maintain and keep them attractive to visitors.

But in recent months, their hopes of receiving federal grants for improvements have been stymied, as congressional leaders have moved to reduce budget allotments to the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. The fund, established by Congress in 1964, has provided Massachusetts with approximately $200 million over the last half-century to build and preserve public spaces.

“It funds not just the big national parks that we all know and love, but also the neighborhood park playgrounds that are right down the street,” said Ben Hellerstein, field organizer of Environment Massachusetts, a statewide environmental advocacy organization. “These are the places that really make Massachusetts so special, whether it’s the beaches of Cape Cod . . . the Berkshires, or the banks of the Charles River.”

In July, a US House appropriations committee approved a spending bill that would further reduce the fund’s allotment from a peak of $432 million in 2010 to about $150 million next fiscal year.

Activists plan to gather Thursday on Boston Common to present a petition calling for full and permanent funding to the Land and Water Conservation fund. The US government collects $900 million a year from oil and gas royalties to build and maintain public spaces, but Congress often allots most of the money for other uses, as was reflected in the July vote.

Parks advocates and local activists worry that funding cuts and the program’s potential expiration will halt new park projects across the state and leave local parks in the lurch.

“It’s totally discouraging,” said Christine Poff, executive director of the Franklin Park Coalition, a community voice for the park. “We really are always looking for sources of revenue that can support the parks. They have to be more heavily funded. It’s basic maintenance. It’s management.”

Since the fund was launched, US money has been used to buy land for the Cape Cod National Seashore, pay for maintenance and renovations at Franklin Park, and convert industrial land into public spaces at the Lechmere Canal and Riverside Press parks in Cambridge. The grant has also paid for projects on the Common and the Harbor Islands.

Renata Von Tscharner, founder and president of the Charles River Conservancy, said she saw the grants transform “industrial wastelands” along the river into vibrant public green space.

“To move away from these conservation projects means not providing much-needed recreational space in an age when we know that obesity is a big issue,” she said. “You need those urban parks.”

Some say the reduction of federal funds would lead to diminished youth programs and access to urban parks.

Bryan Van Dorpe, executive director of Youth Enrichment Services, a nonprofit Boston-based agency, worries about diminished access in the long run to places where youths could hike, camp, rock climb, and snowboard.

“We lose an opportunity to bring our inner-city youths to some of these places that are jewels of our region,” he said.

Faiz Siddiqui can be reached at faiz.siddiqui@globe.com.

Full article can be found online here: http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/08/13/cuts-federal-conservation-fund-alarms-advocates-for-local-parks/W6ezalQfJ2N5KyHYYeeHrO/story.html

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