Updated: Feb 8
In late July, the 'Great American Outdoors Act' was passed by Congress in a bipartisan fashion, receiving 73 yea votes in the senate. On August 4th, 2020, President Donald Trump signed it into law. This act primarily focuses on increasing funding to the National Park Service but includes provisions for the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Indian Education, and the U.S. Forest Service. The bill accounts for $9 billion over five years to "fix deferred maintenance at national parks, wildlife refuges, forests, and other federal lands, with $6.5 billion earmarked specifically to the 419 national park units." (The Harvard Gazette)
What does this mean for park-goers?
It means that you can expect road improvements and infrastructure upgrades mostly. "Roads, trails, campgrounds, monuments, fire safety, utilities, and visitor infrastructure" have reported upwards of $12 billion in maintenance backlog. We expect several hundred underfunded construction projects to begin over the next few years, likely causing delays in traffic, but ultimately a better National Park experience for visitors. Visitor centers may also improve to accommodate more visitors. During the Covid-19 pandemic, almost every national park has authorized renovations to visitor accommodations, taking advantage of the travel restrictions and closures.
What does this mean for The Right to Explore?
Although we believe in fewer restrictions to travel and less infringement on our rights to natural spaces, we can never discount conservation efforts for what they do for the environment. We have yet to know exactly how the new funds will be allocated, and we hope national parks invest less in the enforcement of unjust rules.
If federal land management keeps true to the values and hopes of Senator Cory Gardner, the author of the bill, then we can expect conservation efforts to be the primary objective of the new spending. The Right to Explore hopes to be able to introduce new legislation that piggybacks off funding increases to fill gaps in funds appropriated by reductions in fees and fines. If not, then our proposals will possibly amend the rules of distribution and allocation from bill S.3422.