In a move that reflects how important restoring national parks and public lands are to the American public, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a landmark bill on March 9, 2020 that would cut the National Park Service’s (NPS) $12 billion repair backlog in half, help address maintenance and renovation needs at other public land agencies, and provide dedicated annual restoration funding to the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Here are the top five reasons why Congress should pass the Great American Outdoors Act (S. 3422) to help restore national parks now:
- Priority repairs would be made. This bill would direct up to $6.65 billion over five years to address long overdue priority maintenance needs in the National Park System. By investing in these repairs now, NPS will avert more extensive and costlier fixes down the road. An additional $3 billion would be available to address deferred maintenance in national forests, wildlife refuges, Bureau of Land Management lands, and Bureau of Indian Education schools. Under this legislation, the repairs would not be funded with taxpayer monies; they would be financed by mineral revenues from energy development on federal lands and waters, under a system that has been in place for decades.
- Communities across the country would benefit. NPS maintains more than 400 sites across the country, and directing funds to address the maintenance backlog would help parks in every region, according to a summer 2019 analysis. National parks are proven economic engines that bring over $18 billion each year in direct spending to communities, along with more than 325,000 jobs and tax revenue. Addressing the maintenance backlog will also help generate additional jobs.
- Americans support fixing our parks. The desire to restore our NPS sites is popular with American voters. In June 2019, a poll conducted by the bipartisan research team of New Bridge Strategy and Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates found that 82 percent of voters support legislation that invests in restoring our parks. Additionally, more than 3,000 local and state groups—including hundreds of local elected leaders—have called on Congress to provide resources to address the maintenance needs and repairs within national parks.
- NPS visitation is on the rise. The NPS reports that last year visitation grew 2.9 percent, making it the fifth year in a row that visits topped 300 million. With such numbers, it is imperative that NPS repair and update deteriorating roads, trails, campgrounds, bathrooms, historic buildings, and other vital infrastructure. The Great American Outdoors Act will ensure a strong tourism economy by maintaining access and preserving the park resources people come to enjoy.
- With congressional passage, the bill will likely become law. President Donald Trump has indicated he supports this legislation and will sign it into law if it reaches his desk.
The Pew Charitable Trusts encourages the Senate and House to pass this legislation quickly.
Photo of closed bathrooms at Glacier National Park in Montana courtesy of The Pew Charitable Trusts.
This article was written by Marcia Argust (with minor edits from us), who directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ campaign to restore America’s parks.