The Great American Outdoors Act, the most significant federal conservation and recreation legislation passed in decades, was signed into law one year ago last week. One year later, the Great American Outdoors Act is already securing Pennsylvania’s public lands, and we sit at the beginning of a public lands renaissance.
When thinking back to last summer, it’s perhaps surprising that amid an election year and the fiercest partisan tensions of a generation, lawmakers from both aisles of Congress were able to come together to pass any legislation at all. But the Great American Outdoors Act demonstrates that Americans, with many different political beliefs, agree on at least one thing: protecting America’s natural heritage is essential.
The Great American Outdoors Act fully and permanently funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which protects millions of acres of our nation’s most beautiful and irreplaceable public lands, including national parks, wildlife refuges, state parks, and community parks right here in Pennsylvania and across the country. The act also invests billions in updating our decades-old public lands infrastructure.
Here in Pennsylvania, LWCF has funded everything from national icons like Gettysburg Battlefield and Valley Forge to beloved parks in our region like Tyler State Park, Heinz Wildlife Refuge, and Fairmount and FDR Parks. With the Great American Outdoors Act, the funding for these shared natural and local treasures is guaranteed in perpetuity.
A year later, we are already starting to see the benefits. Thanks to the funding made available through this landmark public lands bill, the Interior Department has budgeted over $9.4 million for projects in Pennsylvania ranging from badly needed renovations at the birthplace of liberty, Independence Hall in Philadelphia, to making the Delaware Water Gap more accessible to visitors, to improvements at Allegheny National Forest and in the headwaters of the Susquehanna River, protecting some of our most treasured streams for backcountry fishing.
The Great American Outdoors Act also marks the first major infrastructure investment in public lands in more than 50 years. Our public lands agencies, such as the National Parks Service and the Bureau of Land Management, have tens of thousands of desperately needed maintenance and repair projects. The law invests $9.5 billion over the next five years to update bridges, trails, roads, campgrounds, and visitor centers.
It’s crucial for the public to understand that the Great American Outdoors Act never would have passed without the leadership of lawmakers who put aside partisan differences and worked together to protect America’s public lands.
As next steps, Congress should keep the momentum going on this bipartisan conservation agenda by increasing funding for state conservation plans and reconnecting highway-crossed habitats with a national network of wildlife corridors. Americans of all stripes value the great outdoors: Congress needs to keep following their lead.
Brian Fitzpatrick represents Bucks County and a portion of Montgomery County in Congress. Stephanie Wein is a clean water and conservation advocate for PennEnvironment, a grassroots environmental advocacy group. A version of this piece first ran in the Bucks County Courier Times.