The Senate just passed the most significant investment in our public lands in a generation. The Great American Outdoors Act, which I co-authored, is a job-creating investment in our outdoor economy that will rebuild crumbling national parks and other public lands around Virginia and across the country.
The legislation carries on a tradition of responsible conservation that began over 100 years ago, when President Theodore Roosevelt led our country in an important effort to conserve America’s vast public lands for future generations. Sometimes called “America’s best idea,” our National Park System has allowed us to not only preserve these public lands, but to pass them on to future generations better than we found them.
The result has been the preservation of natural treasures like Shenandoah National Park, as well the development of man-made outdoor assets like the Blue Ridge Parkway. Over the years, America developed a vibrant outdoor economy centered around our national parks and public lands. Here in Virginia, our national parks support more than 17,000 jobs, many of them in the Shenandoah Valley.
Unfortunately, years of chronic underfunding has forced the Park Service to defer maintenance on countless trails, buildings, and historic structures — as well as thousands of miles of roads and bridges.
Today, over half of all National Park Service assets are currently in desperate need of repairs, with a price tag of nearly $12 billion. In Virginia alone, the deferred maintenance backlog sits at over $1.1 billion — more than any other state but California and the District of Columbia.
At Shenandoah National Park, that maintenance backlog sits at $90 million. As you head Southwest, the Blue Ridge Parkway has accumulated over $508 million in deferred maintenance needs. That’s over $1 million per mile of the Parkway.
Three years ago, I began working with my Republican colleague, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, to do something about this. We wrote a bill called the Restore Our Parks Act to create a dedicated funding source for these overdue repairs. Earlier this year, we combined our legislation with another bipartisan public lands bill, to create the most significant conservation legislation Congress has considered in a generation, the Great American Outdoors Act.
Over the next five years, the Great American Outdoors Act will dedicate enough money to address more than half of the needed repairs to our national parks and completely fund the National Park Service’s highest-priority projects. And most importantly, it uses existing revenue generated by our public lands to make these investments, without raising taxes or adding to the deficit.