As featured on the SOUTHERN ENVIRONMENTAL LAW CENTER NEWS FEED JUNE 19, 2020 –

This week, the U.S. Senate passed the Great American Outdoors Act. The legislation, which passed 73 to 25, signals strong bipartisan support to ensure our parks and public lands receive the maintenance and protections needed for years to come. The bill next heads to the U.S. House of Representatives for consideration.

The bill makes permanent the $900 million per year already reserved for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and establishes the National Parks and Public Lands Legacy Fund, directing up to $9.5 billion over five years to address priority repairs in national parks and other public lands.

“By combining two longstanding public lands measures, the Great American Outdoors Act manages to promote better outdoor experiences today while ensuring that future generations will have the same special places to enjoy tomorrow,” said Federal Legislative Director Anders Reynolds. “Permanent funding for the popular Land and Water Conservation Fund is the perfect complement to the effort to address the $20 billion maintenance backlog in our National Parks – often called America’s best idea. SELC applauds the Senate’s passage of this important legislation, and encourages the House of Representatives to act on it and other deserving public lands priorities soon.”

The Great American Outdoors Act extends important funding to the Southern Appalachian Mountains, a premiere destination for escape, exploration, and adventure for outdoor enthusiasts nationwide. Spanning millions of acres from Virginia to Alabama, the national forests and parks that blanket our Southern Appalachian Mountains are the largest continual track of public lands east of the Mississippi River. With more than half of the U.S. population living within an eight-hour drive of Southern Appalachia, this area’s iconic trails and peaks offer abundant opportunities for hiking, camping, fishing, sightseeing and other outdoors activities.

PUBLIC LANDS AND OUTDOOR RECREATION IN THE SOUTHEAST
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is within a day’s drive for half the population of our country and is the most visited national park in the country. It gets more than twice as many visitors as the next most popular national park, the Grand Canyon.

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park face a maintenance backlog of $236 million and Shenandoah National Park faces a maintenance backlog of over $90 million.

In a recent study conducted by the University of Georgia, nearly 90% of residents in the Southeast support and want more protections for the region’s wildlands.

Outdoor recreation supports 1,169,000 direct jobs and $37.9 billion in wages across Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia according to the Outdoor Industry Association.

Southeastern National Forests provide clean drinking water to millions, provide places to play and explore for millions more, shelter countless rare wildlife species, and support diverse local economies built on tourism.