In this summer of political discontent, an extraordinary thing happened when Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed into law the Great American Outdoors Act, which some have billed as the most important environmental legislation in generations.
The act will provide billions of dollars to our national parks, forests and wildlife refuges. And in historic Virginia, where such federal recreational lands number in the millions of acres and draw millions of visitors, that is big news for conservation, tourism and jobs.
What has been less fully appreciated, however, is that Virginia’s own Sen. Mark Warner laid the groundwork for the act three years ago when he introduced the National Park Service Legacy Act.
It was this bill that first proposed significant funds to eliminate the National Park Service’s billions of dollars in backlogged infrastructure needs. When that proposal stalled, Warner, a Democrat, teamed up with Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican, and a handful of other senators from both sides of the aisle to introduce the Restore Our Parks Act, which garnered support from more than half of the Senate. That traction led to its eventual inclusion in a broader conservation package dubbed the Great American Outdoors Act.
The act does two important things. First, it provides $9.5 billion over five years to address decades of delayed maintenance to more than 5,500 miles of roads, 17,000 miles of trails and 24,000 buildings in our national parks, as well as deliver infrastructure repairs at national forests and national wildlife refuges.