On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed landmark conservation legislation that is being celebrated by those who love our special outdoor places.
The House vote, 310-107, was a landslide, Coming on the heels of a 73-25 Senate vote in June, the Great American Outdoors Act now heads to President Donald J. Trump’s desk. The president has pledged to sign the act into law.
That’s a great thing.
The bill, co-sponsored by Maine’s senators, Angus King and Susan Collins, will support public lands across the country by providing full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, as well as addressing the $12 billion maintenance backlog at national parks, wildlife refuges and national forests.
Maine’s own Acadia National Park needs $65 million to pay for repairs and overdue maintenance. And now, pending Trump’s signature, the park will get the funds it needs.
In today’s divisive political times, it’s rare to see an issue that three-quarters of our elected officials agree on. The Great American Outdoors Act is a bill that provides that kind of consensus.
If you’ve stood on Acadia’s rocky shore and watched the waves crash in, or watched the sun’s first rays splash Cadillac Mountain, or had your breath taken away at any of our national parks, you’ll understand why that consensus exists.
King understands, too.
“These public lands have been passed down from generation to generation, creating an untold number of lifelong memories,” King said.
I’ve got plenty of those memories. I’m sure you do, too.
“Unfortunately, we’ve fallen short on our responsibility to protect these lands for too long, leaving the National Park Service with a $12 billion backlog of maintenance projects in national parks from Acadia to Zion, and regularly allowing funding for the widely popular LWCF to get caught up in unrelated political squabbles,” King said.
Those LWCF funds are especially important right here in Maine. As Collins points out, over the past five decades, our state has received more than $191 million in LWCF funding. And of the 850 LWCF sites in Maine, 650 are considered “community-based” projects. Those range from Riverside Park in Fort Kent to the Haley Soccer Fields in Kittery.
“[The LWCF] funding has been used to open up key areas for hunting, fishing, and recreational access; support working forests and ranches; protect critical lands in national parks, national wildlife refuges, and national forests; and support state and local projects, from ballparks to recreation trails,” Collins said.
In a statement, Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan, producers of “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” explained why the parks are important, and why fully funding them is essential.
“Our public lands –– owned by every American –– are national treasures, which John Muir called ‘places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike,'” they said. “Protecting them for future generations is a sacred obligation, and maintaining them with good roads and better trails and improved visitor facilities is a vital part of fulfilling that responsibility.”
Closer to home, representatives of groups that support the mission of national parks and monuments praised the bill’s passage in the House.
“The Act would dramatically boost funding available for maintenance of existing assets in parks, such as trails, roads, bridges and water systems; as well as ensuring support for the Land & Water Conservation Fund, which has been essential to land protection efforts at Acadia and in communities throughout Maine,” said David MacDonald, president and CEO of Friends of Acadia.
Andrew Bossie, executive director of Katahdin Woods and Waters, said the bill will help the national monument make steps to beef up its infrastructure.
“Katahdin region communities are eager to see the economic benefit from our new national monument and this bill will help ensure that infrastructure is maintained so visitors to Katahdin Woods and Waters have a safe, enjoyable experience and spread the word about the beauty to behold beyond the park gates, now and in the future,” he said.
I’ll offer this, from me and many like-minded friends: Thank you, lawmakers, for recognizing our national lands as such a precious gift.
And thanks for paving the way toward many more treasured memories we’ll make in these special places.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke. His first book, “Evergreens,” a collection of his favorite BDN columns and features, is published by Islandport Press and is available wherever books are sold.