Senate Passes Historic Bill to Improve Protection of National Parks and Public Lands

House approval of Great American Outdoors Act would help preserve American heritage for generations

Senate Passes Historic Bill to Improve Protection of National Parks and Public Lands
Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon National Park has a backlog of repairs and maintenance issues totaling more than $314 million, many of which could be addressed soon if the Great American Outdoors Act becomes law.
John Finney/Getty Images

Americans throughout the country, numerous polls show, value their national parks and public lands as places for outdoor recreation, education, and reflection, and as economic juggernauts for nearby towns and communities. Today the U.S. Senate took a significant step toward enhancing protection of these places—and creating jobs—when it approved the groundbreaking Great American Outdoors Act.

This legislation would provide the biggest investment in parks and public lands in more than 50 years by addressing critical repair needs within the National Park Service (NPS) and other public land agencies. Repair issues include deteriorating historic buildings, crumbling roads, run-down campgrounds, eroding trails, and outdated electrical, water, and sewer systems, and addressing them will help ensure that public lands are safe and accessible for all Americans.

Our National Park System is over 100 years old and almost all of the sites the NPS maintains have deteriorating assets. These places preserve America’s history—the good and the bad—protect our planet’s natural wonders, and provide places to reflect, learn, and explore. Investing in repairs and maintenance across our parks and public lands will help sustain these benefits for generations to come.

Bill offers economic promise for communities

This bill is also an investment in gateway communities across America, many of which are hurting economically. Each year, park tourism contributes more than $40 billion to the national economy and generates nearly 330,000 jobs, according to NPS.  A recent NPS analysis concludes that the Great American Outdoors Act could lead to an additional 100,000 jobs, which are sorely needed right now. The legislation will direct up to $6.65 billion to address critical park repair needs and up to $3 billion for other public lands agencies and Bureau of Indian Education schools. 

The bill also provides for permanent funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a program that provides recreation and hunting access to irreplaceable lands.

Widespread bipartisan support

Sponsored by Colorado Senator Cory Gardner (R) and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin (D), the Great American Outdoors Act builds on the Restore Our Parks Act, which has been gaining momentum over the past two Congresses, championed by senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Mark Warner (D-VA), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and Angus King (I-ME).  The Senate vote of 73 to 25, along with the recent introduction of a companion bill in the House and support from the White House, is testament to the overwhelming public support for the bill. More than 900 national, regional, state, and local groups from across the country signed a letter to Congress recognizing the values of parks and public lands and encouraging passage of the Great American Outdoors Act.

The House should act quickly and pass this bill so it can be signed into law to help jumpstart the American economy and preserve our national treasures.

Marcia Argust directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ campaign to restore America’s parks.

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