Press Release

Applause for grants to build, improve parks in urban areas

Girl looks through mounted telescope in a group of kids at an "Every Kid in a Park" event in Los Angeles County, California, in 2015

An "Every Kid in a Park" event in Los Angeles County, California, in 2015

BLM California, Flickr

Outdoor groups applaud grants to build, improve parks in disadvantaged urban areas

WASHINGTON, January 2, 2020 ---- The National Park Service announced in late December the selection of Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership (ORLP) grants for projects to develop new or improve existing parks in 18 economically disadvantaged urban areas in 16 states. The park service said the selected cities will be invited to submit final applications for their proposals, which would result in total federal investments of $11.7 million.

ORLP is a national competitive grant program that delivers funding to urban areas of 50,000 or more residents – with priority given to projects in underserved areas and communities that lack parks. Established by Congress in 2014 and administered by the National Park Service, the ORLP is funded through the Land and Water Conservation Fund State and Local Assistance Program.

Statement from Yvette Lopez-Ledesma, Urban to Wild Assistant Director at The Wilderness Society:

“Access to parks and green spaces is not equitable. Many people in underserved communities don’t live near a quality park and are deprived of the benefits that nature provides. The Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership Program will address these inequities through funding the creation and improvement of parks, especially in neighborhoods that lack green spaces.”

The ORLP program seeks to create and expand outdoor recreation in areas with the greatest needs. These grants help create and improve state and locally owned parks and other outdoor recreation areas in ways that will help the public access or re-connect with the outdoors. Since 2014, about $28 million in ORLP grants have been awarded to 18 communities hoping to improve close-to-home access to the outdoors.

The Wilderness Society strongly endorses the Outdoors for All Act, introduced in 2019 by Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.) and Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio). The Outdoors for All Act would dedicate a mandatory source of funding for ORLP to increase access to outdoor recreation opportunities by prioritizing projects that empower underserved communities, provide job-training to youth and reconnect people to the outdoors in cities and towns. ORLP has been sporadically funded in recent years, which is why mandatory funding is so important for this program. A Senate companion bill, S. 1458, was introduced by Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).

Additional comments about the ORLP grant announcement

“Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership Program (ORLP) grants provide critical funding for urban parks and help ensure all people have access to quality, outdoor recreation opportunities, leading to healthier and stronger communities. This is the third round of ORLP grants, and when matched with other local funds, provide enormous health, economic, and social equity benefits to cities. With 80% of Americans now living in urban and metropolitan areas, investing in city parks must be a priority,” said Catherine Nagel, Executive Director of City Parks Alliance.

“Our urban parks play a crucial role in spurring economic growth and development while creating more resilient, sustainable communities with green infrastructure systems,” said Tom Smith, Executive Director of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). “They serve as dual spaces for both recreation and stormwater management, harmonizing the natural and built environments. However, there are many urban areas without adequate funding to improve their parks and recreation services, which is part of the reason our nation’s public parks sit at a “D+” on the 2017 ASCE Infrastructure Report Card. These Department of Interior competitive grants will enable these urban areas to invest in innovative, resilient and sustainable solutions to maintain and modernize their parks.

“These Outdoors Recreation Legacy Partnership (ORLP) grants will increase access to parks and open space for people of all ages living in urban areas across the country,” said Kyle Simpson, NRPA Senior Manager of Government Affairs. “At NRPA, we believe everyone deserves a great park, which is why we’re excited about this announcement.”

Access to nature is a human right, said Joel Pannell, Associate Director of Sierra Club's Outdoors for All Campaign. "Yet today, far too many communities suffer from polluted air, contaminated water, and a lack of access to quality parks, trails, and other public lands and waterways.  The Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership (ORLP) grants announced represent an important step in creating a future where everyone, regardless of zip code, can enjoy the multiple benefits of getting outdoors.  We are thrilled that these grants will support efforts to prioritize outdoor equity as we build healthier, more vibrant, and more sustainable communities across the country."  

“Far too many people in the United States lack access to a close-to-home park or green space, and entire generations of children are growing up without experiencing the immense benefits of nature,” said Diane Regas, President and CEO of The Trust for Public Land. “TPL is a proud partner with the National Parks Service and cities delivering quality, local parks to make our cities healthier, safer and more connected.”

The Wilderness Society, founded in 1935, is the leading conservation organization working to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places. With more than one million members and supporters, The Wilderness Society has led the effort to permanently protect 111 million acres of wilderness and to ensure sound management of our shared national lands.   


Contact: Tara Brown, Government Relations Representative, The Wilderness Society, 202.429.2647, [email protected]