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Conservation Funds Help Communities Provide Outdoor Places, Opportunities

Tags: Grants
February 23, 2022 12:00 AM
By: Josh VanBrakle, DCNR Recreation and Conservation Advisor

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​At the start of the new year, Governor Tom Wolf announced an investment of $70 million for 317 recreation and conservation projects across Pennsylvania. The grants supported a range of projects (PDF) including public parks, open space protection, and trail building.

DCNR also is accepting applications for another round of funding in 2022 through April 6, 2022.

All these grants are part of DCNR’s Community Conservation Partnerships Program. The program combines several state and federal funding sources into one.

Keystone Recreation, Park, and Conservation Fund

Commonly called the Keystone Fund, this is DCNR’s largest source of grant dollars. About two-thirds of Community Conservation Partnerships Program grant funding in 2021 came from the Keystone Fund -- around $48 million.

Outdoors, people, playground, equipment, building, nature, trees, mulch
A Keystone Fund grant recently helped the City of Lancaster install new play equipment at Milburn Park. The park serves more than 9,000 residents within a 10-minute walk.

The Keystone Fund gets its money from the Realty Transfer Tax. Every time a piece of real estate is sold in Pennsylvania, a small portion of the purchase price goes to the Keystone Fund.

That money in turn supports local community projects, among them:

  • Local park and trail improvements
  • Recreational water access
  • State park and forest infrastructure
  • Historic preservation
  • Library construction and renovation

The Keystone Fund has supported more than 6,000 projects across Pennsylvania since its creation in 1993. It’s funded projects in every Pennsylvania county. One in three Pennsylvania local parks have received Keystone Fund support.

Land and Water Conservation Fund

DCNR also receives significant federal funding to support recreation and conservation projects. The Land and Water Conservation Fund is the largest of these federal sources.

It is the second largest source for Community Conservation Partnerships Program grants. In 2021, it contributed about $10 million.

Congress created the Land and Water Conservation Fund in 1964. The idea was simple: use a small portion of offshore oil and gas drilling fees to permanently protect important land, water, and cultural heritage resources for all Americans to enjoy.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund has protected some of Pennsylvania’s most iconic outdoor locations, including Gettysburg National Military Park, the Appalachian Trail, and the Flight 93 National Memorial. It’s also supported more than 1,200 state and local parks.

Nature, outdoors, trees, mountain, tower, September 11 memorial
The Land and Water Conservation Fund contributed $10 million to support the creation of the Flight 93 National Memorial. Photo credit: National Park Service

Environmental Stewardship Fund

Also called “Growing Greener,” the Environmental Stewardship Fund is the Community Conservation Partnerships Program’s third largest grant funding source. It contributed about $7 million in 2021.

Growing Greener has a long legislative history in Pennsylvania. Votes to create and expand the fund passed in 1999, 2002, 2005, and 2012.

The fund draws money from several sources. These include a share of tipping fees -- the fees for dumping trash in landfills. A portion of impact fees from oil and gas drilling also goes into the fund.

Like the Keystone Fund, the Environmental Stewardship Fund supports more than just DCNR grants. It’s a major source of funding for environmental cleanup operations.

It also supports farmland preservation. Pennsylvania’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Program is the largest in the nation, and the Environmental Stewardship Fund is a major source of money for the program.

Farm, landscape, rural landscape, agriculture, outdoors, nature, hills, trees, grass, mountains

To date the program has permanently protected more than 550,000 acres of farmland.

The Environmental Stewardship Fund supports many of DCNR’s educational and partnership grants. The Pennsylvania Parks and Forest Foundation recently used Environmental Stewardship Fund money to create a comprehensive guide to 180 outdoor smartphone apps (PDF).

ATV and Snowmobile Management Restricted Accounts

Tractor, indoors, garage, equipment

A grant funded from the Snowmobile Management Restricted Account helped the Marienville Trail Riders Snowmobile Club purchase equipment to maintain 200 miles of snowmobile trails in the Allegheny National Forest.

When Pennsylvania ATV and snowmobile riders pay their state registration fees, a portion of that money goes to the ATV and Snowmobile Management Restricted Accounts. In 2021, funding from these accounts supported about $2 million in Community Conservation Partnerships Program grants.

Those grants go right back to supporting riders by funding ATV and snowmobile projects. The grants fund planning, acquisition, development, rehabilitation, and equipment for ATV and snowmobile trails and facilities.
They also support ATV and snowmobile educational programs, such as rider safety courses.

Other Funding Sources

Although the funds above make up most Community Conservation Partnerships Program grants, they aren’t a complete list. Other state and federal funding sources support these grants, such as the Pennsylvania Recreational Trails Program, Heritage Areas Program, and the Keystone Tree Fund.

Combined, these funding sources support hundreds of on-the-ground recreation and conservation projects every year.

From parks to pools, trails to tree planting, these projects help make Pennsylvania communities vibrant, healthy places to live, work, and play.

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