Washington, D.C. – Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (ORR), the country’s leading outdoor recreation coalition, in partnership with the USDA Forest Service, Department of the Interior (DOI) and a diverse range of outdoor recreation partners, joined together today to discuss implementation of the most important outdoor recreation legislation in the 21st century – the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA).
Jessica Turner, Executive Director of ORR, led off the call with a celebration of the historic anniversary. “GAOA was signed into law one year ago today after passing both the House and Senate by overwhelming bipartisan margins during an international pandemic. This victory during a tumultuous time spoke loud and clear that the outdoors brings our country together and is more valued than ever. It is also abundantly clear, with stories in the press almost constantly throughout the pandemic and now as travel opens up, that our public lands and waters are in high demand for the myriad benefits they provide: from physical activity to mental health and wellness, socializing with friends and family, a connection to nature, not to mention the economic benefits to local communities, jobs and economies.”
Participants celebrated the two major accomplishments of GAOA: the full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and the creation of the Legacy Restoration Fund (LRF) to address the $12 billion deferred maintenance backlog across America’s public lands and waters. Both DOI and USDA Forest Service have made significant progress in implementing GAOA in its inaugural year.
- The USDA Forest Service and DOI have identified over a thousand vital infrastructure improvement projects outdoor recreationists rely on, such as campgrounds, roads, bridges, visitor centers, parking lots, trails, water and electrical systems, and more
- Over 150 campground-related projects are being worked on in the first year alone
- DOI is rolling out 165 deferred maintenance projects and an investment of $1.6 billion to improve infrastructure in National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, Recreation Areas, and deferred maintenance needs at the Bureau of Indian Education schools
- 63 additional DOI projects proposed for FY22 totaling over $1.5 billion in investment
- The USDA Forest Service anticipates $1.4 billion in investments to address backlog over the five years of this authority
- In FY 2021, $285 million in projects are being invested throughout the national forest system in 40 states and Puerto Rico
- LWCF funds will now flow consistently to every state and territory each year to protect state and local parks and high-priority lands inside our iconic National Parks, Forests, wildlife refuges as well as to support new parks in cities where residents lack access to the outdoors
- In FY22, over 100 locally-driven projects have been prioritized as ready-to-go conservation and recreation opportunities that will enhance and improve access to federal public lands, protect cultural and historic sites and support working lands in rural communities
Shannon Estenoz, Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks at the Department of the Interior spoke to the importance of partners in executing the GAOA vision. “At Interior, we appreciate the outdoor recreation community’s continued engagement and partnership. GAOA is special because it brings together a broad range of recreation: rivers, trails, conservation, parks, and philanthropic partners. Partnerships are critical to the successful implementation of the Act, so that we can ensure that we leverage the historic federal commitment represented by the Act with state, local, and organizational funding to improve and modernize our stewardship of national resources, accommodate visitor needs, and increase recreation opportunities in ways that align with our equity and inclusion goals.”
Maite Arce, President and CEO of the Hispanic Access Foundation, highlighted LWCF’s benefits for underserved communities and the importance of including these communities in the implementation process. “The impact that LWCF has made can never be fully put into words- from the smallest to the largest of Latino communities, LWCF has been critical in providing communities with what is often their only means to experience the outdoors… These communities not only need more parks, but they need more involvement in management decisions.”
Kristine Stratton, President and CEO of the National Recreation and Park Association described LWCF’s historic significance. “Since LWCF was signed into law, 42,000 state and local park projects in every state in the nation have been funded through LWCF, representing over $4.9 billion in investments. And with the 1:1 match, that means that the fund has created nearly $10 billion in economic activity for local communities. This is a fraction of the economic activity that local parks can generate—in 2017, local park and recreation agencies generated $166.4 billion in economic activity and supported 1.1 million jobs around the country.”
Kate Van Waes, Executive Director of the American Hiking Society, encapsulated the significance of GAOA in supporting the country’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. “It is evident that more and more people are getting out there and how important outdoor recreation, especially on trails, is for everyone from families out for a Sunday walk to folks trying to reach their favorite fishing spot… American Hiking’s National Trails Day ® reached 45 million people on social media this year, up from 19 million in 2019. The LWCF and LRF are really important for all types of trails from paved urban to single track wilderness, to the bigger, more famous National Scenic, Historic, and Recreation Trail System.”
A recording of the call can be found here.