Great American Outdoors Act historic for parks
Since Washington, D.C., is so accustomed to partisan fights and exaggeration, it was refreshing earlier this month when President Donald Trump signed what everyone agrees is the most important conservation and outdoor recreation law in more than a half century.
The new law celebrates where every cooped-up American wants to be these days: in the great outdoors. The head of Bass Pro Shops, who was at the bill signing, told me his stores are packed and fishing and hunting licenses are being sold at record numbers as families head for parks, woods, lakes and streams.
The reason for the all the excitement is that over the next five years, the new Great American Outdoors Act the president signed will provide $9.5 billion to cut in half the deferred maintenance backlog in our national parks and forests and other public lands. From the National Mall to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the Grand Canyon to Pearl Harbor, too many of the 419 national park properties are in bad shape, and visitors often are shocked to find so many roads, picnic areas, trails, campgrounds and visitor centers in bad condition or even closed.
Here is what this new law means for Tennessee: Places like Look Rock Campground in the Smokies, which has been closed for several years because the sewage system doesn’t work, will have the resources to reopen so 5,000 families who once camped there each year can enjoy it. The Cherokee National Forest in East Tennessee, which has a $27 million deferred maintenance backlog and welcomes 3 million visitors each year – more than most national parks – will have its roads and trails restored. The Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park has a $30 million maintenance backlog. And the Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge in West Tennessee has $8 million of maintenance work that needs to be done on boat ramps and boat docks.
The law also permanently provides $900 million each year for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Since the 1960s, the LWCF has provided $221 million for Tennessee, which included the purchase of the 10,000-acre Rocky Fork property in upper East Tennessee and the purchase of over 2,000 acres to create the John Tully State Forest in West Tennessee.
The new law is historic because this is the largest investment in national parks since the Eisenhower years. Many people have been trying to make funding permanent for the LWCF since it was created in 1964. In 1985-86 when I chaired President Ronald Reagan’s Commission on Americans Outdoors, permanently funding the LWCF was our No. 1 recommendation.
There were many marchers in this parade – Democrats, Republicans, hundreds of conservation groups – but this would not have happened without Trump’s support. He is the first president to allow funds from energy exploration on federal property to be used to reduce the maintenance backlogs in national parks. When he visited Tennessee in March I asked him and he agreed to include other public lands in the legislation that I had introduced three years ago covering only national park properties.
Italy has its art, England has its history and Egypt has its pyramids, but the United States has the great American outdoors. That is what we celebrated at the White House, and I was proud to be one marcher in the parade.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander is a Republican from Tennessee.
Source: Knoxville News Sentinel
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Published August 28, 2020