What do Rangeley Lake State Park, Mount Blue State Park, the North Franklin Park Skating Rink in Phillips, the Stratton Elementary School playground and the Strong Beach on Porter Lake have in common? They’ve all been beneficiaries of the national Land and Water Conservation Fund.
As the executive director of the High Peaks Alliance, a nonprofit with a mission of preserving recreational access in Maine’s High Peaks region, I am grateful that our U.S. senators have worked so diligently to secure the future of this important program that has pumped more than $191 million into Maine over the past five decades.
Last year, U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King co-sponsored legislation that permanently reauthorized the program, and this year, they are both among the 59 Senate co-sponsors of the Great American Outdoors Act.
Should it pass, this bill would permanently secure funding at the maximum level of $900 million per year for the program. This funding level has only been achieved twice since its inception. Funding would still come from a portion of the proceeds from natural resource development, such as off-shore drilling, to invest in important conservation projects all around the country without placing a burden on American taxpayers.
The Great American Outdoors Act would also fund much of the maintenance backlog at our nation’s national parks, including the $65 million backlog in deferred maintenance at Acadia National Park and $18 million in deferred maintenance along the Appalachian Trail, which runs through the heart of the High Peaks region.
This bill has great bipartisan support, with more than half of the U.S. Senate as co-sponsors, and the president has indicated that he will sign it once it reaches his desk. Just last week, Collins delivered a moving floor speech in support of the bill, which is on track to pass the Senate sometime this week.
Since it was created in 1964, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has been used to fund projects in every single county in the country, both large and small, and the program is unique because it is driven at the local level. Out of the 850 Land and Water Conservation Fund sites in Maine, 650 are community-based projects that were selected and designed by the local people who benefit directly.
Currently, the High Peaks Alliance is in the final stages of fundraising, in collaboration with the Trust for Public Land, to preserve Shiloh Pond, a community gem in Kingfield. This unique property has been a longtime local honey hole, chock full of brook trout and it’s recently been placed on the market. If the residents of Kingfield vote to accept this gift, they could use the program to fix up the road and build a trail system, making this property even more accessible for generations to come.
This is just one example of how High Peaks Alliance could help local municipalities leverage this program for future conservation projects that improve the quality of life while also supporting the local economy, and it highlights why we support the full funding provided under the Great American Outdoors Act.
Together, with the support of our federal delegation, we can continue to use this important program to preserve access to some of Franklin County’s most valued resources, support the areas working forest and revitalize communities in the High Peaks region, and beyond.
Please join me in thanking Collins and King for their part in advancing the Great American Outdoors Act in Congress.
Brent West is the executive director of the High Peaks Alliance in Farmington.