November 29, 2021

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Fit And Go Forward

America’s parks are on verge of major improvements

These days good news is something to be savored. And this week Americans received some great news. The House passed, and the president has said he will sign, the Great American Outdoors Act, which includes full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and addresses the National Park System’s long-delayed $12 billion maintenance backlog.

How did we arrive at this important moment? And why does this legislation, which will bring outdoor opportunities to more Americans, have such broad appeal?

Precisely because everyone needs to get outside. Fresh air and a connection with nature are good for body and soul.  In the age of COVID-19, the confining aspects of the virus make us ever more grateful for a walk in a park, a bike ride in the mountains, or a hike into nearby forests.

For 55 years, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has provided outdoor access through funding and enhancing outdoor spaces in every congressional district in the country.

To date, the program has contributed nearly $20 billion for national treasures such as Grand Canyon National Park, the Everglades, Mount Rainier National Park, New York’s Central Park, and local parks and ball fields throughout America.

Mount Rainier
Mount Rainier

The preservation of treasured outdoor spaces accomplished through LWCF funding has been achieved using less than one half of the $900 million per year originally intended by Congress. The remainder has been siphoned off for non-outdoor projects. 

Today we are on the verge of having a fully funded LWCF at a time when it’s needed most. As we rebuild our economy and our communities, natural places will play an increasingly important role, both via the recreation economy and through the higher quality of life that time in nature brings.

Outdoor recreation is economic driver

Not only do our public lands, supported by the LWCF, provide a chance for renewal and escape, but outdoor recreation in the United States generates $887 billion annually in consumer spending and supports 7.6 million jobs.  As travel and tourism begins to open up, travel industry experts tell us that people will start by taking day trips to nearby natural places and proceed to road trips to our scenic national parks.

In addition, outdoor places play a key role in mainstream economic development.  Businesses increasingly choose to locate in areas where outdoor opportunities provide high quality of life. Both city and state tax revenues, along with job creation numbers, are rising in places that have prioritized outdoor access for their citizens.

Companies increasingly want to set up shop in communities with high quality of life that will attract the best and the brightest, and full funding of LWCF will bring outdoor spaces to more American communities.

President should sign legislation

Enacting the Great American Outdoors Act is an important bipartisan component of efforts to bring about economic recovery for towns and businesses across America. Places funded by LWCF often become the heart and soul of local communities —pathways along rivers and parks act as defining components of life across our country.

In June, the Senate voted to pass Great American Outdoors Act with overwhelming bipartisan support.  This week, the House voted to pass the Great American Outdoors Act companion bill with 246 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle. This is a milestone victory that fulfills a critical opportunity to provide healthy outdoor access to meet the growing demand, and improves economic prospects for places that need it the most.

Now it’s on to the president’s desk. We urge the president to sign this historic legislation without delay.

Dan Nordstrom is CEO emeritus of Outdoor Research in Seattle; Amy Roberts is senior director of The North Face in Denver; Scott Deal is CEO of Maverick Boat Group in Fort Pierce, Fla.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Why America’s long-neglected national parks may soon get help

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