Politics isn’t for everyone. In fact, it’s the reason why some of us spend so much time in the woods. But finally, there’s some good news out of DC that’ll make sure the woods are still there to run screaming into.
Earlier this week, a bipartisan bill, known as the Great American Outdoors Act, was signed into law. First introduced by the late John Lewis, it’s the most critical piece of conservation law so far this century, and we’re excited about it.
Here’s why you should be too.
It Addresses a Massive Repair Backlog
America’s National parks are our greatest treasure, and more and more people are visiting them every year. According to the National Park Service, there were 327 million visits last year, totaling almost 1.5 BILLION hours.
That’s a good thing. It’s what the parks are there for, after all. But as visitors to the Parks have increased (up 50% since 1980), their budgets have not. That widening gap has left billions of dollars of repairs and upgrades to key safety features, infrastructure, and facilities on the “to-do” list.
In response to that deficit, the Great American Outdoors Act allocates up to a total of 9.5 billion dollars over the next five years to address those shortcomings. 6.5 billion dollars of that money is going directly to National Park projects. The additional funds (up to 3 billion) are earmarked to help with similar needs in federal forests and wildlife preserves.
And if you’re worried that this just patches over those problems without looking to the future, don’t worry.
It Guarantees Funding to the LWCF
The Land and Water Conservation Fund was first established in 1964 and played a massive role in the formation of many of our National Parks, as well as preserving a large number of forests, rivers, and lakes.
At its founding, the LWCF was meant to receive almost a billion dollars (900 million, to be exact) in federal funds every year. This money was meant to come from royalties paid by oil and gas companies to preserve one resource even as another was used up. Sadly, that funding has all too often been diverted away from that purpose.
Included in the Great American Outdoors act are specific requirements that the 900 million originally intended for the LWCF is only used for that purpose. This will not just allow better maintenance of existing parks and preserves but will also enable the expansion of existing parks and preserves, and maybe even the creation of new ones.
Having that money guaranteed to a fund like the LWCF gives greater flexibility to how it’ll be spent. It will allow a more proactive approach to land and water conservation. So this isn’t just a bandaid, it’s robust funding for our national parks and natural wonders going into the future.
It’s the Biggest Win for Parks and Conservation in a Generation
The Great American Outdoors Act is the result of years, if not decades of effort. In part, because it’s a much-needed answer to neglect that’s taken place over the same timeframe.
Everyone from lawmakers and researchers to conservationists and park employees has seen that this is necessary to secure the future of our national parks. Finally, through a combination of factors, most notably a considerable push of bipartisan support, we’ve scored a win for our National Parks.
For the people who have been following, let alone fighting for these protections, this is a huge victory. It means that all the frustration and effort has been rewarded. That alone is worth celebrating.
It Reminds Us What We Value as Americans
America’s National Parks have often been called its greatest treasure, and its most significant investment. And it’s rare for anything to come out of congress that is an uncontroversially good thing. The Great American Outdoors act is precisely that. It’s the best investment we can make in the most magnificent treasure our country has.
It’s encouraging as an American to see that for all our divisions, we can still put those differences aside and protect something that matters to all of us.
Whether you’ve got one park that you visit year after year, or are looking to cross all 419 off your bucket list, you should view this as great news. It’s a forward-looking piece of legislation that means that parks will still be there and always be beautiful and accessible for you and for your children.