RALEIGH – The Land for Tomorrow Coalition has praised the 2021 State Budget, saying it reflects the highest spending allocation for land and water conservation since the 2008 recession.
When additional resilience money is factored in, it represents a benchmark for conservation funding.
“I’ve been at this a long time and this budget is one for the ages,” Bill Holman, N.C. State Director of the Conservation Fund, said in a news release. “This is great news for nature and for people. Game lands, parks, trails, and communities that are threatened by flooding will all benefit.”
Tim Gestwicki, chief executive officer of the N.C. Wildlife Federation, agreed. “In the past 15 years, we haven’t seen the kind of funding that allows us to make big deals. That kind of outlay is often needed when protecting land that will become state game lands – particularly in the Piedmont where game lands are in high demand, but land prices are high.”
Parks – state and local – will also receive a major influx of dollars.
“I’ve worked in this arena for 23 years. Early on we received consistent funding that enabled park improvement and expansion across the state,” Michelle Wells, executive director of the N.C. Recreation and Park Association, said in the release.
“But lately the dollars, while welcome, have been scarce. Communities are going to enjoy the positive impacts of this budget.”
Trails, which have historically received little direct funding, were a big beneficiary of this budget, said Kate Dixon, longtime Executive Director at Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
"We’ve worked for years to put trails on the agenda,” she said. “But they haven’t been viewed as a separate entity worthy of direct funding. This budget elevates trails and provides the resources to start transforming North Carolina into a great trail state. The pandemic has proven how much people value trails for their health and quality of life and how much they can mean to the economy.”
The budget also includes significant funding to help North Carolina become a leader in nature-based solutions to flooding, which has plagued the state in recent years and is likely to increase with weather uncertainty wrought by global warming.
“Nature can play a big role in making communities more resilient to big weather events like Hurricane Matthew or Florence,” said Katherine Skinner, executive director of The Nature Conservancy in North Carolina. “This budget is the real deal – funding mapping, planning, land conservation and staffing that will help us be better prepared for inevitable future storms.
Highlights of the budget
Land and Water Fund
$49.5 million in additional nonrecurring funds for FY21-22. Brings the total to $62.7 million for traditional projects (see additional $15 million in the 3rd bullet below).
$51.5 million in additional nonrecurring funds for FY22-23. Brings the total to $64.7 million.
$15 million in nonrecurring funds in FY21-22 for floodplain projects. This brings the total for all NCLWF projects in FY21-22 to $77.7 million.
Parks and Recreation Trust Fund
$45.5 million in additional nonrecurring funds for FY21-22. Brings the total to $61.7 million.
$45.5 million in additional nonrecurring funds for FY22-23. Brings the total to $61.7 million.
$29.25 million in nonrecurring funds in FY21-22 for Complete the Trails fund.
Creates a new trail coordinator position and provides $95,018 in recurring funds to pay for the new position.
Parks for People with Disabilities
Provides $10 million in nonrecurring funds to local governments for parks for persons with disabilities.
Farmland Preservation Trust Fund
$670,000 in new recurring funds and $8 million in additional nonrecurring funds in each year of the biennium. That brings the new recurring total to $4.97 million per year, and the total funding for both FY21-22 and FY22-23 to $12,970,000.
Some highlighted projects
$12.2 million for Pisgah View State Park ($9 million in FY21-22 and $3.2 million in FY22-23)
$150,000 to Blue Ridge Conservancy for the Watauga Paddle Trail
$4 million for Vade Mecum at Hanging Rock State Park
$500,000 to BRC for Middle Fork Greenway
$4 million for Pilot Mountain Bean Shoals Trail
$3 million for the Wilderness Gateway State Trail
New State Park units
The budget authorizes two new State Park units, the Roanoke River Paddle Trail and Bakers Lake State Natural Area.
Parks operating funds
Fully funds the operating requirements for State Parks that have been recently expanded or improved. $2.1 million recurring and $877,000 nonrecurring in FY21-22, and increased to $3.5 million recurring in FY22-23.
State Parks water and sewer projects
$40 million for water and sewer projects in State Parks
The resilience package contains $15 million for the Land and Water Fund. In addition, it includes:
$20 million to the Division of Mitigation Services within DEQ for the creation of a “statewide Flood Resiliency Blueprint”
$15 million for a Disaster Relief and Mitigation Fund at DPS
$15 million for a Transportation Infrastructure Resilience Fund at DPS
$25 million to Golden Leaf for a Small Project Mitigation and Recovery Program
$40 million for a Costal Storm Damage Mitigation Fund at DEQ
$4 million for a Dam Safety Emergency Fund at DEQ
$3.5 million to DEQ for specific DMS pilot projects
$1.15 million to DEQ’s Division of Coastal Management for the Resilient Coastal Communities Program
$300,000 to DEQ’s Division of Coastal Management for two time-limited, full-time positions to staff the Resilient Coastal Communities Program
$38 million for DACS for a new Streamflow Rehabilitation Program
Land for Tomorrow is a statewide coalition of community leaders, conservation and wildlife organizations, and parks and recreation advocates with a common goal - increasing land and water conservation in North Carolina.
For more information, visit www.land4tomorrow.org/.
This article originally appeared on Hendersonville Times-News: Conservation Coalition hails NC budget's money for parks, game lands and trails; What's funded