The Great American Outdoors Act Could Give Billions of Dollars to National Parks — Here's What You Need to Know

The bill passed in the Senate and is expected to pass in the House.

Travel in 2020 is changing. People are no longer looking to take trips to far-off destinations and are instead seeking out domestic locations where they can still give in to their wanderlust. For many Americans that means getting out into the great outdoors at some of our beautiful national parks. And for everyone heading out to those parks this year we have some good news: Those national parks are about to get a serious influx of cash.

On June 17, the U.S. Senate passed The Great American Outdoors Act. As the Center for American Progress explained, once fully passed the act will provide permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. It will also fund the deferred maintenance on public lands and go toward further funding the Bureau of Indian Education.

“The Senate’s decisive stamp of approval for this historic package demonstrates the growing energy and power of America’s conservation movement,” Kate Kelly, director of Public Lands at the Center for American Progress, said in a statement. “This bill will provide a significant shot in the arm to our nation’s economy and help heal our public lands and waters at a time when natural areas are rapidly disappearing.”

Now, all that’s left for the act to do is pass in the House and it will be good to go. Here’s what you should know about the act, and how you can voice your support for its passage.

Goats standing above lake in Glacier National Park
Jordan Siemens/Getty Images

Who wrote the act:

The bill was sponsored by Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado. The bill was also co-sponsored by 59 other senators across the nation, including Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. The bill passed in the Senate with 73–25 votes.

“The overwhelming bipartisan support for this bill demonstrates the value and power our national parks have to bring people together,” Teresa Pierno, the president and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association, shared in a statement. “Today, Senators from across the country and across the aisle stood together in support of our parks, public lands, and communities. But there is more work to be done to get this bill over the finish line. Congress must protect America’s legacy and help this bill become law.”

How much cash The Great American Outdoors Act will give to parks:

According to the American Hiking Society, if passed, the bill would provide $9.5 billion over five years from energy development revenues on federal land and water to assist in park maintenance. Perhaps most importantly, the American Hiking Society noted, the money would “also address the most pressing deferred maintenance infrastructure needs within the National Park Service, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Indian Education.” It added, “There is a nearly $12 billion backlog of maintenance projects across our public lands. When annual maintenance needs go unaddressed, long-term problems arise, seriously hampering the public’s access to outdoor recreation. Closed trails, out-of-service restrooms, campgrounds in poor conditions, and impassable roads are only a few of the barriers that hikers face.”

A portion of the money from the act’s budget will also go toward the Bureau of Indian Education schools as well. And, The Great American Outdoors Act would guarantee the $900 million given to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) each year will go directly to America’s parks. This fund tends to get shifted by Congress for other priorities, however the measures in this bill would prevent that from happening in the future.

What happens now:

Now, the bill will head to Congress for a vote. According to Skopos Labs, the bill has about an 82% chance of being enacted. But, it’s not guaranteed so the bill still needs your help. The best thing you can do is lend your voice, just like more than 850 organizations have already done, by contacting your local legislators. The American Hiking Society has an easy form you can fill out or copy and paste to send yourself. It’s the very least we can all do for the outdoor spaces that have given so much to us all, especially in 2020.

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