LAS CRUCES - Apodaca Park will receive a $750,000 grant from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund via the National Park Service, which the city of Las Cruces had sought since 2018.
The award was announced Thursday by U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall along with U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, all D-NM.
The Las Cruces City Council approved the grant request in the summer of 2018 to help fund a $1.5 million renovation of the city park. Plans included the construction of a multi-use trail, an aquatic playground, a shaded picnic area, new exercise equipment and bathrooms, and upgraded playground equipment. The swimming pool and adjacent shower facility in the park, closed for several years, would be demolished.
The remaining funds are to be derived from park impact fees assessed on new housing development in the city.
The park renovations were part of a neighborhood development project councilors approved in 2018 called the Apodaca Blueprint.
Udall's father, former Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, helped create the Land and Water Conservation Fundin 1964 during the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson.
"I am proud that we have significantly increased our investments in LWCF in recent years," Udall said in a statement, "and I’m going to continue fighting to ensure LWCF is permanently funded so that communities across the country can always protect their neighborhood parks and wild places for their children.”
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The fund, which won permanent authorization by Congress just last year, is used to pay for federal land acquisition, preserving public lands for recreational use, and numerous grants to states and counties for local outdoor projects. The fund's revenue comes mostly from offshore oil and gas leases, and not from taxpayer funds.
While the fund is authorized to collect $900 million annually, Congress does not typically appropriate the full amount for the fund. For the 2020 fiscal year, $495 million was appropriated for the LWCF, an increase of nearly nine percent over last year.
Conservationists and lawmakers have called for mandatory full funding for the LWCF, touting its benefits for conservation and local economic development.
"We are now fighting to permanently fund this incredibly effective conservation program to ensure that the outdoor spaces rooted in our communities, like Apodaca Park, are accessible for all families to enjoy,” Heinrich said in a statement.
The announcement came days after Torres Small joined local officials and conservationists for a group hike in the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks national monument to raise awareness of the LWCF.
The LWCF funding was welcomed by city councilor Gabriel Vasquez, who wrote, "Being able to provide quality parks, playgrounds and safe places for youth and their families to play outdoors is a fundamental building block of a healthy community."