Investing in the mountains

Register-Herald file photoA group of rafters make their way down the Gauley River in 2018. The Great American Outdoors Act now awaits the signature of President Donald Trump after being passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on July 22 and by the U.S. Senate on June 17.

The Great American Outdoors Act now awaits the signature of President Donald Trump.

And, if that happens, the New River Gorge National River stands to benefit greatly, according to Becky Sullivan, the executive director of the New River Gorge Convention and Visitors Bureau. 

Deferred park maintenance projects could be accomplished, Sullivan said, as the legislation would be the most significant investment in almost 65 years for national parks and public lands.

Equally important, Sullivan said, it will help local communities and businesses get back on their feet and generate more jobs.

On July 22, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the legislation by a vote of 310-107. The U.S. Senate passed it 73-25 on June 17.

“I’m excited to see the House of Representatives overwhelmingly pass the Great American Outdoors Act just as the Senate did last month,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and a longtime LWCF advocate, said in a press release.

“This package provides full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and will significantly reduce the approximately $20 billion deferred maintenance backlog on our country’s public lands.

“This bill is truly a historic conservation victory and will ensure that America’s treasured public lands are preserved for generations to come. I’m proud of this bipartisan piece of legislation and look forward to the president signing it into law.”

In February 2019, Manchin led the charged with the Senate the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act, which permanently authorized the LWCF. Since it was created in 1965, only about $19 billion have been appropriated, leaving over $22 billion of the revenues that have accrued in the fund unappropriated, the press release noted. The program has been fully funded only twice in its history. Manchin’s Great American Outdoors Act would provide the full $900 million to the fund every year going forward.

The GAOA also provides significant funding to address deferred maintenance needs on federal lands. The legislation would provide $9.5 billion over five years for the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Indian Education maintenance backlogs.

Manchin says the bill will also serve as a much-needed stimulus to combat the economic crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. He stressed the economic impact outdoor recreation has had and will have for states across the country, particularly West Virginia. Investing in deferred maintenance projects would create more than 110,000 infrastructure-related jobs, the senator noted. Also, a new analysis from Boston University found that, at full funding of $900 million, the LWCF could support an additional 15,000 to 28,000 jobs each year.

“We want to give our sincere thanks to Rep. (Carol) Miller and Rep. (David) McKinley for their support of the Great American Outdoors Act,” Sullivan said in the release. “Our local economy depends on the tourism dollars that our park sites generate.”

According to the National Park Service, visitors spent $75.4 million in 2019 in gateway communities across West Virginia, Sullivan pointed out. “We need to keep our parks in good shape to ensure their accessibility and safety for those visitors who, in turn, support our economy.”

Park tourism contributes over $41.7 billion to the national economy annually and supports over 340,000 jobs, the press release noted.

The GAOA legislation has the backing of more than 900 organizations, including local towns and cities, the recreation industry, veterans’ groups, hotel and lodging, infrastructure associations, preservation groups, hunters and anglers, conservation organizations and local businesses.

“This is a historic victory over 50 years in the making for communities across the country that benefit from the economic, cultural and recreational value of America’s public lands and close-to-home recreation,” Tom Cors, director of government relations for lands at The Nature Conservancy and a spokesperson for the LWCF Coalition, said in a statement. “Despite years of uneven funding, LWCF has conserved iconic landscapes in every state; protected our national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, wilderness, monuments and battlefields; and supported community investments in parks and outdoor recreation opportunities.

“Now, LWCF will be a promise fully kept, as a permanent commitment to conservation, recreation and community needs that for too long have fallen through the cracks. And, it will do all this while driving job creation and economic recovery efforts our country needs right now.”

In its capacity as a conservation program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund is responsible for protecting parks, wildlife refuges and recreation areas at the federal, state and local level. For 50 years, it has provided critical funding for land and water conservation projects, recreational construction and activities and the continued historic preservation of national landmarks from coast-to-coast.

Officials stress that LWCF does not use any taxpayer dollars; it is funded primarily using a portion of revenues from offshore oil and gas royalty payments. Outdoor recreation, conservation and historic preservation activities contribute more than $887 billion annually to the U.S. economy, supporting 7.6 million jobs.

The LWCF Coalition is the umbrella group of more than 1,000 state and local land owners, small businesses, ranchers, sportsmen, veterans, outdoor recreationists and conservation organizations working to protect America’s public lands and safeguard a shared outdoor heritage for future generations.

According to information supplied by Manchin’s office, the fund has aided projects as diverse as securing river access in the Gauley River National Recreation Area and building a public gathering place known as Discovery Junction in Marlinton. Since 1964, LWCF has provided over $250 million to West Virginia, benefiting 54 of 55 counties.

For more information on LWCF and the places in each state that have been protected using LWCF funds, visit www.lwcfcoalition.com.

Email: skeenan@register-herald.com or follow on Twitter @gb_scribe

 

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