Blog Post Kristen Brengel Aug 4, 2020

‘A Conservationist’s Dream’: Congress Passes Great American Outdoors Act

Legislation represents a historic victory for parks and will authorize billions of dollars to fund critical maintenance projects and conserve vulnerable lands.

On July 22, the House of Representatives passed the Great American Outdoors Act, a bill authorizing billions in funding for two major park-related needs, the National Park Service deferred maintenance backlog and the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Earlier today, President Trump signed the bill into law.

NPCA has led long-term campaigns to secure these vital park resources, and our advocates have spoken out time and again to fund both of these critical programs. The legislation’s bipartisan support is the culmination of two decades of work, thousands of emails and phone calls, hundreds of trips to Capitol Hill offices, and a shared love for America’s heritage.

“This bill is a conservationist’s dream,” said NPCA President and CEO Theresa Pierno. Read Pierno’s full statement.

What is in the Great American Outdoors Act?

The legislation includes components from two previous bills that NPCA has strongly supported, the Restore Our Parks Act and the Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act.

The Restore Our Parks Act

The Restore Our Parks Act, championed by Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH), Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Angus King (I-ME), dedicates $1.3 billion per year for five years to deferred maintenance projects in the National Park Service’s nearly $12 billion backlog of needed repair work. Park roads and facilities have been deteriorating for decades, and federal funding has been insufficient to meet the system’s mounting needs. This money would help address the highest-priority infrastructure repair needs, including visitor centers, trails, roads, bridges, water and electrical systems, and more.

The Great American Outdoors Act also dedicates $3 billion to the U.S. Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Indian Education infrastructure projects to address necessary repairs throughout our U.S. public lands system.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act

The Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act, led by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Cory Gardner (R-CO), dedicates $900 million annually to conserve our parks and public lands. The Land and Water Conservation Fund is one of our country’s most important tools for preserving the integrity of our national parks. Agencies such as the Park Service have used the funds to purchase vulnerable lands within park borders from willing sellers, protecting these parcels from incompatible residential and commercial development.

Congress created the Land and Water Conservation Fund in 1965, but the program has only been fully funded once at the $900 million annual amount originally authorized by legislators. Today’s bill would allocate the full $900 million to this conservation program each year in perpetuity. This funding will play an enormous role in protecting the integrity of our public lands for generations to come.

How would national parks benefit?

People visit national parks expecting a world-class experience that reflects America’s rich history and natural beauty, but many sites are in dire need of repairs and reaching a breaking point. Tourists are encountering closed roads and trails, outdated facilities, and other serious problems.

Any deferred maintenance and land and water conservation projects that receive funding through the Great American Outdoors Act will be chosen by the Department of the Interior from a list of eligible national park projects. There are many examples of high-priority repairs and conservation needs at beloved national parks throughout the country that might benefit directly from these funds.

Examples of high priority deferred maintenance projects include:

  • The Grand Loop and entrance roads at Yellowstone National Park are woefully inadequate for current visitor needs. More than half of the park’s $586 million maintenance backlog is needed for long-overdue road repairs.
  • The aging buildings at Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park in Georgia have $12 million in maintenance needs, including repair work at the Ebenezer Baptist Church where the late civil rights leader preached and where his funeral was held.
  • Yosemite National Park has a variety of critical repair needs, from $118 million in wastewater plant repairs and upgrades to various rehabilitation projects at popular roads, trails and campgrounds.
  • Kalaupapa National Historical Park in Hawaii needs nearly $3 million to replace its unsafe and failing electrical system.

Examples of high priority conservation needs include:

  • 470 acres of scenic, culturally significant lands at Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska, including two parcels sacred to the Huna Tlingit people and one island parcel surrounded by marine wilderness with potential for camping, fishing, wildlife watching and other recreational pursuits.
  • 153 acres at Big South Fork National Recreation Area in Kentucky and Tennessee that represent the most threatened tracts of land within the park. These lands provide refuge for a variety of threatened and endangered species and are especially vulnerable to development if not acquired through the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
  • 1354 acres at Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park in Texas, the site of the first battle of the Mexican-American War. These lands include much of the Mexican battle line and the hill where commanding Mexican General Mariano Arista oversaw the conflict.
  • 2210 acres in Mojave National Preserve in California with scenic views, important forage areas for wildlife, migration areas for bighorn sheep and coyotes, and numerous historic and cultural sites.

YOU made it happen

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The success of the Great American Outdoors Act is thanks to the dedication and support of thousands of passionate people. NPCA advocates have sent more than 147,000 messages to members of Congress since 2017 supporting funding for deferred maintenance and more than 96,000 messages supporting the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Hundreds of park enthusiasts have also joined NPCA on Capitol Hill, reaching every single congressional office with a strong message to fund critical repairs and conservation needs at our national parks.

Thank you to everyone who stood with the parks to support this historic legislation. Help win more important victories for parks by signing up for NPCA’s news and alerts.

This story is an updated version of a previously published story.

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