For more than four decades, towns and cities in all 50 states have bought or built new public parks with money levied from oil companies that operate offshore oil drilling operations. The National Park Service has made about 42,000 park grants to states and local governments, and each grant imparts special protection: the park will never be closed to the public without written permission from the Park Service and a guarantee of a replacement of “equal fair market value and reasonably equivalent usefulness and location.”
An InvestigateWest investigation has found multiple failures in the Land and Water Conservation Fund leading to what parks advocates contend is an increasing number of park closures and conversions. The Park Service’s internal controls fall well short, and only in recent years has it started to request detailed information about park location. State compliance is spotty, and a five-year inspection cycle has slowed, with some parks going without inspection for up to a decade. And even in cases where the Park Service is consulted in a park conversion, an imbalance of power between local advocates and wealthy developers means uneven deals sometimes get struck and promises get broken.
In reporting this story, InvestigateWest tracked a handful of park conversions for more than three years, reviewed thousands of pages of documents, and compiled a database of federal grants under the Land and Water Conservation Fund. We’re asking readers to use this searchable database to identify local parks that have received such funding and file reports on the current status of those parks. InvestigateWest would like to thank MSNBC.com, the Fund for Investigative Journalism, and its members, without whose financial support this story would not have been told.