One year ago today, the Great American Outdoors Act was officially signed into law, marking a historic investment in America’s public lands that will impact our nation’s conservation legacy for generations to come. This legislation permanently funded the Land and Water Conservation Fund and inaugurated the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund, which supports deferred maintenance and repairs in national parks and forests.
National Parks and Public Lands Legacy Restoration Fund
When Congress passed the Great American Outdoors Act, we knew how important this legislation would be to the state of Washington. National parks and wildlife habitat, waterways and forested foothills, and neighborhood parks and trails will be conserved and maintained, improving ecological health, boosting economic recovery, and providing sustainable outdoor access for all. Many public agencies, nonprofit organizations, and individuals have worked tirelessly to sustain lands for habitat as well as people’s access to nature, with outdoor recreation gaining popularity each year. As public agency budgets and staff shrink and the population grows, the backlog of much-needed maintenance for trails and recreation areas has increased dramatically.
The Great American Outdoors Act offers part of the solution to this maintenance backlog for public land management agencies, and will benefit all people who live, work, and play in the Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area (Greenway NHA) and in federal public lands across the country.
Here in the Greenway NHA, we are supporting the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest with their maintenance project requests as this Great American Outdoors Act funding begins to be allocated to federal land managers across the country. The package of projects is billed as the “Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area Multi-Asset Investment Corridor” and includes much-needed maintenance and improvements at Denny Creek and Franklin Falls, Annette Lake, Snow Lake, the new Pratt Bar trail in the Middle Fork Snoqualmie, Asahel Curtis Nature Trail, and more. Forest Service staff have requested the addition of bear proof containers, fire rings, and fee tubes for popular campgrounds including Tinkham, and Wish Poosh; road improvements and a new gatehouse for Kachess Campground; trail maintenance work on and near the Pacific Crest Trail; and funding for youth conservation corps crews that will help tackle significant maintenance projects.
However, our collective advocacy is not yet done. National forests are hampered by a lack of adequate staffing to manage these projects and restrictive hiring caps for Forest Service personnel. Our friends at the Mountaineers share more of the funding challenges at the Forest Service here.
Land and Water Conservation Fund
The Greenway NHA owes its connected public lands in large part to the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Early on in our existence, we worked with partners to utilize Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars to transfer privately owned lands into public forests.
In the Greenway NHA, more than 90,000 acres have been conserved through more than 50 public purchases, preserving iconic places including Snoqualmie Point Park, wildlife habitat in the L.T. Murray, ridgelines high in the Cascades along the Pacific Crest Trail, riverside parcels along the Yakima River, favorite urban parks like Gas Works Park and Kubota Gardens in Seattle, and many more treasured natural places to enjoy today and for future generations.
Doing Our Part to Care for Public Lands
One year into the passing of the Great American Outdoors Act, and you better believe we are still excited about how the Greenway NHA will flourish once all of these deferred maintenance tasks are completed. But, like any laundry list of projects put off due to lack of time and money, there is always more to do! We continue to advocate for our public land agencies, provide leadership and expertise, and convene powerful partners. Most importantly, we encourage everyone to take an active role in creating healthy and sustainable public lands, by volunteering, donating, recreating responsibly, respecting others, and rallying in support of future legislative efforts like Great American Outdoors Act and Land and Water Conservation Fund!