Congress will be discussing the Great American Outdoors Act this week. No matter where you stand politically, we can all agree on this issue (and really, what other issue can bring us all together like this?). This act will affect our lives as campers and as park lovers. We encourage you to get involved.
To hear more about The Great American Outdoors Act, click “play” on the media player above or look for The RV Atlas wherever you find your favorite podcasts.
What is the Great American Outdoors Act?
The Great American Outdoors Act does two broad things:
- Fully funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund
- Funds the Restore our Parks Act. This will address the $12 billion backlog of repairs in our national parks and the additional $8 billion backlog on our shared public lands. That’s a total of $20 billion in maintenance and upgrades.
So far, it seems like this act has a lot of bipartisan support, and the president has promised to sign it if Congress passes it. We love seeing so much broad support for something that we all care about. Our parks badly need this. While they are amazing in so many ways, they could be so much better. They need the funds to properly maintain, repair, and upgrade facilities.
What is the Land and Water Conservation Fund?
The Great American Outdoors Act smooshes together legislation regarding the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the maintenance funding. This made us wonder what exactly that Conservation Fund is. Here’s the description from the National Park Service:
The Land and Water Conservation Fund was established by Congress in 1964 to fulfill a bipartisan commitment to safeguard our natural areas, water resources and cultural heritage, and to provide recreation opportunities to all Americans. Using zero taxpayer dollars, the fund invests earnings from offshore oil and gas leasing to help strengthen communities, preserve our history and protect our national endowment of lands and waters. The LWCF program can be divided into the “State Side” which provides grants to State and local governments, and the “Federal Side” which is used to acquire lands, waters, and interests therein necessary to achieve the natural, cultural, wildlife, and recreation management objectives of federal land management agencies.
One important thing to note is that this fund uses no taxpayer dollars. It is funded by offshore oil and gas leasing, which brings in hundreds of millions of dollars per year. A chunk of that money is supposed to go to the conservation fund each year. Unfortunately, the government often uses the money for other purposes and leaves the fund, well, underfunded. The Great American Outdoors Act would right this wrong, ensuring that the appropriate funds go where they were intended to go.
Notice in the quote above, this money is meant to be used for both state and federal park projects. It could go to develop campgrounds, preserve beaches, upgrade visitors centers, and more. So much is already being funded, so imagine the possibilities if parks were to receive the much needed monies to begin work on the maintenance backlog.
What is the Restore our Parks Act?
The second part of the Great American Outdoors Acts is the Restore our Parks Act. Over the years, a $20 billion backlog in repairs has accumulated. It must be so frustrating for park managers to add items to the list each year. They know the list is hopelessly long.
It’s especially sad when you consider how much economic growth the parks generate. They aren’t just sitting there, sucking up dollars. Instead they attract tourists to the region. These tourists spend money on hotels, campgrounds, restaurants, groceries, and more. Just look at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The most visited park in the nation has a huge list of repairs on the list and a relatively modest annual budget. Meanwhile, it is generating income for Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and other towns, as well as the states of Tennessee and North Carolina.
Why Should You Support the Great American Outdoors Act?
As we just said, parks generate tourism dollars. So, at the very least, we should consider the parks’ contributions to local, state, and regional economies. An editorial co-penned by the president of the RVIA (the RV Industry Association) refers to a study that says $10 of economic impact results from every $1 spent in national park. That’s huge!
Generating that money for the economy is an investment we need right now. It can help people get back to work. Young people and unemployed adults could benefit from this, similar to what happened during the CCC era.
Supporting the Great American Outdoors Act is a win win! We know our country is facing a lot of challenges right now, but that’s exactly why now is the time. As the government is looking for ways to decrease unemployment, is is a perfect time to invest in park infrastructure.
Furthermore, now is the time to improve our parks, as more people are turning to them as a safer place to recreate during the coronavirus pandemic. We have been out there camping, and we know we will spend more time in parks this season. We’d also love to see new campgrounds added at some of the less popular parks.
What Can You Do to Help?
It’s really easy to help out. Just contact your senators and legislators. RVIA has made it super easy to do so by following this link. They have a letter already written out, and they have the contact information for your representative. Just fill out your name, address, and other info, and they will do the rest! It can’t be any easier than that!
Get involved! Help the parks!
See You at the Campground,
Stephanie + Jeremy