As part of a major package of public lands legislation, the U.S. House is set to vote on permanently reauthorizing a federal program that uses revenue from offshore oil and gas drilling to protect public lands.
If passed, there's new life for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and two new national monuments for Kentucky - Camp Nelson in Jessamine County, and Mill Springs in Pulaski County. Both are significant Civil War sites.
Bruce Burkett, president of the Mill Springs Battlefield Association, says making the site a national monument is long overdue, given its pivotal history in the Civil War. "I think it's good for Mill Springs, I think it's good for Kentucky and I think it's good for the nation," he states.
"We've been working toward that kind of designation probably for 15 years now."
Congress is considering permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which expired last fall. The money is used to create or protect historic sites, wildlife habitats and outdoor recreation projects on public land in every state. The Senate has already passed a public lands package.
Over the years, Kentucky has received about $126 million for LWCF projects that, in turn, generate jobs, tax revenue and tourism dollars. Burkett says making Mill Springs a national monument would have similar economic perks for the region. "Sixty percent-plus of visitation to the battlefield is actually out-of-state," he points out. "Tourism is going to be a big factor for the battlefield, and the economy of Southside."
Money from the LWCF has been used to protect other military heritage sites, including Valley Forge, Gettysburg, and Manassas National Battlefield.
A 2018 poll found three out of four Americans support reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The House vote could come as early as next week.