ICYMI, last week The House of Representatives passed a $9 billion public lands package. This comes just over a month after it passed in the Senate. The bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act is intended to repair deteriorating national park infrastructure and permanently bankroll the $900 million Land and Water Conservation Fund. It also proposed the National Parks and Public Land Restoration Fund, setting aside $9.5 billion over five years to address deferred maintenance on national parks. While the historic legislation is exciting on its own, it has major implications for Western North Carolina, and today we’re giving you the 411 on it, Mary J. Blige-style.
The Great American Outdoors Act combines components from two previous bills: the Restore Our Parks Act and the Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act, which would provide full + dedicated funding to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).
The LWCF was established by Congress in 1964 to protect water resources + natural areas, as well as to provide opportunities for recreation for all Americans. National parks — like our beloved Great Smoky Mountains + the Blue Ridge Parkway — as well as community parks, national forests, rivers and lakes, and trails in each state benefit from LWCF’s federal funds.
The LWCF would be funded by royalties from offshore oil + gas drilling, and can be used for three purposes: general federal purposes, federal land acquisitions, and state-level matching grants for outdoor recreation projects (like swimming pools + greenways). This means cities across the country, like Asheville, can apply for Land and Water Conservation Fund support for things like creating a new city park. The LWCF has not been fully funded since 1978.
In addition to protecting + conserving natural resources, the LWCF will affect NC public lands acquisition + maintenance. It is critical to securing protection for lands adjacent to national parks, and works with The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) locally to protect national parks. It will also help drive job creation + economic recovery efforts in WNC and beyond. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation activities, including hiking, paddling, camping + more contribute a total of $887 billion annually to the economy and supports 7.6 million jobs — 260,000+ of which are in NC alone.
So what’s next? The bill is now headed to the White House, where President Trump has promised to sign it into law.