Bipartisan Outdoors Bill Would Address $20 Billion Deferred Maintenance Backlog

The U.S. Senate is expected to pass bipartisan legislation this week that would fund deferred maintenance for aging infrastructure at state parks, including full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The Great American Outdoors Act, which some legislators are touting as a tool for recovery, would then head to the House.

Even though visits to national parks have increased in the past decade, the park system has crumbling roads, deteriorating historic buildings, rundown trails and outdated water, sewer and electrical systems, according to the Pew Charitable Trust.

Federal public lands have $20 billion in existing deferred maintenance costs, while the National Parks Service itself has a $12 billion backlog, according to Colorado publication, The Center Square.

U.S. Sens. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., said on a webinar with news media last week that the federal legislation to improve public lands will help restart the country’s economy, according to the publication.

The funding would also go for boating infrastructure like docks, ramps and parking facilities, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

The bill permanently funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund – “a go-to program for conserving and maximizing outdoor recreation access” – at its $900 million annual authorized level, according to NMMA communications director John-Michael Donahue.

“The Great American Outdoors Act will improve and expand recreation access on our public lands and waters, while positioning the recreation industry to be a catalyst for economic recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Donahue in an email. “Without raising a dime in new taxes, this bill will restore, expand and protect our beloved recreation resources that Americans depend on for the invaluable wellness benefits outdoor recreation opportunities provide.”

In the era of social distancing, activities like boating provide one of the safest atmospheres for families to spend time relaxing together, said Donahue.

“The Great American Outdoors Act will create more of these opportunities and generate significant economic activity for years to come,” he said.