The Great American Outdoors Act is on path to becoming law! This bipartisan piece of legislation has passed the Senate and is expected to pass the House in late July. If and when it becomes law, this Act will benefit Mainers by providing permanent funding for thousands of acres of public outdoor spaces, and helping fix our national parks.
The Great American Outdoors act will ensure permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Established in 1964 with the goal of funding public outdoor spaces without the use of taxpayer money, LWCF is funded by royalties from the leasing of public lands for offshore drilling, designed so that the use of public lands also benefits public lands. However, since its enactment, Congress has diverted over $22 billion of those funds to other agendas. The Great American Outdoors Act will ensure that the Land and Water Conservation Fund will receive one hundred percent of the money it was originally intended to receive.
So how has this money been spent in Maine? Eight Maine outdoor spaces have received federal LWCF grants, including Saddleback Mountain, Acadia National Park, and Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge. The State has also received over $191 million from LWCF that has funded non-federal, local projects in every county of Maine such as the Presque Isle Ballfield, Grafton Notch State Park, Kettle Cove in Cape Elizabeth, and the Lubec Town Landing. 650 out of the 850 sites are community based projects, a full map of the projects can be found here.
Today, it is estimated that state governments need $27 billion for the upkeep and expansions of their local state parks and projects. This is especially pertinent regarding the unprecedented increase in use of public recreational facilities since the coronavirus pandemic has shuttered indoor entertainment options and freed up time for us in the United States to spend outdoors. Before the pandemic it was estimated that outdoor recreation adds $3 billion to the Maine GDP and creates 41,000 jobs. Co-sponsors of the Great American Outdoors Act, Senator Angus King and Senator Susan Collins both agree that this funding is an essential piece of the puzzle when it comes to the health of Maine residents, communities, and economies. See Senator King’s floor speech on the Great American Outdoors Act here and Senator Collins’ floor speech here.
In addition to helping Maine’s local parks and recreation, the increased and consistent funding from LWCF would address the overwhelming maintenance backlog in Acadia National Park, and national parks across the country. Acadia, as many Mainers know from trying to drive on Route 1 through Wiscasset in July, has 3.5 million visitors a year. At the end of 2018, Acadia had $66 million in deferred maintenance projects, including repairing those dreaded potholes, updating trail maps and trails, and restoring outdated buildings and bridges. Tourism is vital to Maine’s economy and having the funding to upkeep Acadia National Park is critical to supporting the exponential increase in visitors to our beautiful coast. Visitor spending in communities near national parks across the country in 2018 alone resulted in a $40.1 billion benefit to the nation’s economy and supported 329,000 jobs. Acadia National Park, being one of the top ten most visited National Parks in the country is a significant asset to Maine’s economy.
Overall, the Great American Outdoors Act is the beacon that Maine and outdoor spaces all across the country need during these unpredictable times. Not only will it increase outdoor recreation, wildlife education, and a sense of community, but it will create outdoor jobs. Please join Maine Audubon in thanking co-sponsors Senators King and Collins, as well as House co-sponsors Representative Chellie Pingree and Representative Jared Golden for their continued and vital support.