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Interior Secretary Visits South Mountain For Special Anniversary

(Photo by Andrew Bernier - KJZZ)
An interpretive marker at South Mountain park in Phoenix.

South Mountain Park is the largest municipal park in the country. On Saturday, it hosted the U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell for a special anniversary. 

Alongside Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, the visit celebrated the 50 th anniversary of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Established by Congress in 1964 and funded by oil and gas drilling on federal land, the fund aims to support the establishment and maintenance of urban parks.

Stanton, who is a member of the national Mayors for Parks Coalition, lauded the benefits parks give to Phoenix and the country. “This fund has made a great difference here in the city of Phoenix, and in Encanto Park and of course here in beautiful South Mountain," Stanton said. "But the truth is that the impact of this fund is seen all across the United States of America. It’s been absolutely critical to establish urban parks and refuge, and helping to protect green spaces in urban areas across the country.”

Seen as one of the most effective measures for land conservation in urban areas, the fund has been touted as a success for promoting outdoor recreation, economic growth and ecological preservation. However, the fund is to expire next year and has seen deep cuts in the past.

Jewell has been travelling across the country engaging officials to support President Barack Obama’s budget proposal to permanently fund the program at the original $900 million annual budget.

“Congress has appropriated less than half of the money that has gone into the U.S. Treasury from oil and gas revenues that was identified and authorized for this fund, so there is a long backlog," Jewell said. "We have tired facilities all over the country.”

Jewell notes in the 50 years of the funds existence, Arizona has received $210 million, and for about every dollar of the fund spent typically yields $4 of economic activity.

Andrew Bernier was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2014 to 2016.