Great American Outdoors Act is good for Tennessee, Carter County
Having passed the U.S. Senate by a strong 73-25 vote this week and expected to win approval in the House quickly, the Great American Outdoors Act is a reason for real celebration.
Bipartisan agreement on a major piece of legislation is a rarity in our deeply divided country. Passage of this important conservation measure is also a rare example of beneficial side effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
The legislation will provide dedicated funding to reduce the National Park Service’s deferred maintenance backlog — nearly $2 billion in needed repairs across the National Park Service —and provide full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. For several years now, the National Parks Conservation Association has urged lawmakers to fix national parks’ crumbling roads, worn-out recreational trails, failing water and sewer systems, and other critical maintenance issues.
National parks protect some of our most iconic natural wonders, from the Chimney Tops at the Great Smoky Mountains, to the Half Dome at Yosemite and dozens other attractions. Parks also preserve our heritage and the stories that unite and inspire us, from the battlefields at Gettysburg to human rights battles at Cesar E. Chavez National Monument. But over the past decade, the National Park System has experienced chronic underfunding, a reduction in staffing, and a growing backlog of needed repairs, all while dealing with record visitation, making it extremely difficult for staff to ensure the protection of our national parks and the resources they hold.
Those who support the bill say that the widespread stay-at-home orders made people realize how important it is for physical and emotional health to be able to get outside. With other diversions not available, lots of people this spring took to the great outdoors, where it is easier to maintain safe distancing and breathe fresh air. They were reminded of the value of outdoor activity and connection with nature.
The pandemic’s damage to the U.S. economy also boosted widespread sentiment in favor of the bill. The legislation will provide sorely needed funding for the long-neglected maintenance of the national parks. That funding is expected to help create tens of thousands of jobs and boost the economy of communities near the parks.
The bill makes economic sense in the longer run as well, because by protecting national parks and other public lands, it supports the outdoor recreation economy that provides an estimated 5 million jobs nationwide and fuels more than $778 billion in annual economic output. People in the Tennessee know well the economic importance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Cherokee National Forest, much of which lies in Northeast Tennessee.
The bill protects forests, waterways, and other areas important for hunting, fishing, boating, and other outdoor recreation.
When the Great American Outdoors Act becomes law, it will be great news for Tennessee and the nation. Protecting the environment and preserving our public lands should be a top priority even — or especially — during difficult times. This act will help protect that ongoing work from the vagaries of politics.