Blog Post Kristen Brengel Feb 26, 2019

Congress Passes Major Bipartisan National Parks and Public Lands Package

Today’s sweeping victory represents significant expansions and enhancements to America’s national parks and public lands.

Today, the House passed the Natural Resources Management Act, a package of more than 100 bipartisan bills already passed by the Senate that will expand and improve America’s public lands system, including numerous national park sites around the country. The public lands package was championed by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, unifying Congress at a time when it has been bitterly at odds. President Trump is expected to sign the bill into law.

NPCA and its supporters have worked for years to achieve some of these important park victories, including the creation of new national monuments in Kentucky and Mississippi, a major expansion and redesignation of Ocmulgee National Monument in Georgia, and protections that will prevent new mining operations near North Cascades and Yellowstone National Parks, among other provisions.

Here is a breakdown of what the bill contains and what it will mean for our park system.

 

What new park sites will the legislation create?

The legislation will establish four new national monuments, two of which will become part of the National Park System.

  • Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument, Mississippi. Medgar and Myrlie Evers were powerful voices for the civil rights movement. Their unwavering determination encouraged the fight for equality across the country. A veteran of United States armed forces, Medgar Evers served as the first NAACP field secretary for Mississippi after returning to civilian life. He was killed by an assassin in 1963 at age 37. The national monument will continue to preserve the legacy of the Evers family.
  • Mill Springs Battlefield National Monument, Kentucky. The Battle of Mill Springs was the first decisive Federal victory of the Civil War and the beginning of a series of Confederate setbacks in the Western Theater. The site offers intact examples of a Civil War battlefield and related properties that were occupied at the time of the battle, as well as insight into the Confederate Army’s winter field camp. In 1991, the National Park Service put Mill Springs on its Most Endangered Battlefield List.

The act will also establish six new national heritage areas. National heritage areas are large, lived-in landscapes that preserve America’s cultural history. These areas are operated as a program of the Park Service, although they are managed through innovative partnerships and are not official national park sites.

 

What park expansions will the legislation create?

  • The bill will expand national parks by more than 42,000 acres, adding new land to Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks, Mojave National Preserve, Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, and Fort Frederica National Monument. Notably, the legislation will expand Ocmulgee National Monument by 1,300 acres and formally redesignate the site as Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park, preserving significant cultural resources in one of the nation’s richest archaeological areas and honoring the ancestral stories of the Muscogee Creek and other Southeastern Native people.
  • The bill will create 1.3 million acres of new designated wilderness, of which approximately 88,000 acres will be managed as part of the National Park System, all of it in the California desert.

  • The bill will expand the National Trails System by 2,600 miles, including a 1,200-mile extension on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail and a 1,400-mile extension on the North Country National Scenic Trail that will connect it to the Appalachian Trail.

  • The bill will expand the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System by 621 miles, including 77 miles managed by the National Park Service.

 

What additional protections to park lands will this legislation enable?

The bill will prevent new mining operations on 370,000 acres outside of North Cascades and Yellowstone National Parks. These significant, hard-won victories will preserve air and water quality, wildlife habitat, dark night skies, and the peaceful, natural character of these parks. At Yellowstone in particular, two industrial-scale operations, including one proposed mine that would have been within view of the park’s Roosevelt Arch, would have had disastrous consequences on the environment, the local businesses that depend on the area’s thriving tourist economy, and the park experience that draws millions of visitors from across the globe.

The bill will also authorize five new special resource studies — these studies allow the Park Service to evaluate whether a site would be significant, suitable and feasible to include in the National Park System. These special resource studies will focus on the James K. Polk Home in Columbia, Tennessee; the public school in West Baltimore, Maryland, that Thurgood Marshall attended as a youth, as well as the surrounding neighborhood; the President Street Station in Baltimore, Maryland, that served as an important railway link during the Civil War; the Amache incarceration camp in Granada, Colorado, where people of Japanese ancestry were imprisoned during World War II; and the childhood home of George W. Bush in Midland, Texas.

 

What other programs will this legislation enable?

The act will permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, one of our nation’s most important conservation tools protecting public lands from incompatible development. Congress established this trust fund in 1965 to protect some of America’s most vulnerable public lands using a small portion of federal income from existing offshore drilling royalties. These funds allow agencies such as the National Park Service to buy private land inside national parks from willing sellers that could otherwise become trophy homes, mini-marts or even mining operations.

The act will reauthorize historic preservation grants for Historically Black Colleges and Universities through fiscal year 2024. These funds support preservation and restoration of buildings and structures at campuses across the nation.

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The act will also authorize the Department of the Interior and other federal agencies to administer passes that provide free entry to America’s public lands, including all of our national park sites, for fourth graders and their families. This initiative, known as the Every Kid in a Park program, has been a popular — and fun — way of connecting young people to the outdoors since it launched in 2016.

 

When do these new and expanded park sites become official?

Most of the new national monuments and park expansions will become official when the president signs the bill into law, though in some cases, the National Park Service will need to take additional steps to acquire land. The time it may take to adjust signage, maps, online trip-planning information and other materials will vary by location.

 

What can I do to support this measure?

Nothing — this incredible victory is already won. Thank you to everyone who took action over the years to make today’s news a reality. Subscribe to NPCA’s news and alerts to help with the next fight to protect and improve our national parks.

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