Thanks for fighting for the Great American Outdoors Act

The Great American Outdoors Act, which fully and permanently funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund, is now the law of the land. The president signed the legislation in a ceremony this morning, a formality given Congress’ overwhelming bipartisan and veto-proof support of the law.

Help save Landers Meadow, a special place along the Pacific Crest Trail.

Landers Meadow, a special place along the Pacific Crest Trail, was conserved through the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Many thanks to all our members and supporters who added their voices to the conversation about this important new law over the years. The PCTA and the larger trail community have been working on this for more than a decade. We’ve asked countless times for you to lend your voice to the conversation. It’s clear that members of Congress heard you.

With today’s signing, all those years of phone calls and notes to your elected representatives finally paid off. Congratulations for your hard-won victory!

The Great American Outdoors Act not only devotes $900 million a year for land protection projects through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, it will provide just over $9 billion during the next five years to address a huge maintenance backlog in our national, parks, forests, monuments and other public lands.

PCTA Chief Financial and Administrative Officer Teresa Reichert, volunteer Kirsten Reichert, PCTA Regional Representative Anitra Kass and PCTA Land Protection Director Megan Wargo meet with California Rep. Raul Ruiz in Washington D.C. in February 2020.

This law is a big win for the Pacific Crest Trail, our National Trails System and every community in the country. The Land and Water Conservation Fund, arguably the nation’s most important tool for conservation and public recreation access, has historically been short-changed. Since 1965, Congress has siphoned more than $22 billion from the fund for other general fund expenditures.

The Great American Outdoors Act acknowledges and corrects the problem and is an investment in the maintenance and enhancement of public lands at a time when its most needed.

Our public lands face unprecedented pressures and threats—growth and development; attempts to water down regulations and public review of major development projects; resources extraction and energy projects; and environmental factors such as drought and wildfire.

Students hike into their Intro to Trail Maintenance class site during the 2016 Tahoe Trail Skills College – by Bill Cunningham

Students hike into their “Intro to Trail Maintenance” class site during the 2016 Tahoe Trail Skills College. Photo by Bill Cunningham.

Roads, visitor centers and trails in national parks and on public lands have been deteriorating. Crumbling infrastructure is exacerbated by increasing visitation and inconsistent annual funding, which has led to a nearly $12 billion backlog in repair needs in America’s national parks alone. The backlog in national forests is $5.2 billion. The total backlog is more than $20 billion when maintenance needs on other public lands are included.

Helping a $20 billion backlog in public lands maintenance. 

Public lands include our nation’s most significant natural and cultural treasures, wilderness and our National Trails System—19 National Historic Trails and 11 National Scenic Trails such as the PCT. These lands and trails preserve our America’s cultural heritage and history, offer unparalleled recreation opportunities for hundreds of millions of people across the globe, and centrally define and unite us as a nation.

These irreplaceable resources also are major economic engines, propelling a nationwide outdoor recreation economy that supports more than five million American jobs, contributes more than $778 billion in annual economic output, and serves as the lifeblood for countless communities across the country. Taking care of public lands can ease some of the problems caused by our current economic crisis.

How does this new law affect the PCT?

Over the past 18 years, almost $46 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund has been used to acquire and permanently protect just over 33,000 acres along the PCT. About 10% of the trail still crosses private property with the footpath protected only by a simple easement. These properties could one day be covered with buildings or power lines. Purchasing them (only from willing sellers) will preserve the wilderness trail experience Congress intended.

Thank you!

Thanks to a bipartisan effort in Congress and your many years of advocacy, The Great American Outdoors Act is a reality. Many thanks to all our delegates in Congress from California, Oregon and Washington. All six PCT senators championed the cause and we had near unanimous support in the House of Representatives from the PCT states. You can see the votes here.

Finally, we thank each of you for your diligence in this effort, and for all you do for the Pacific Crest Trail.

A lone hiker in the Mount Whitney zone. Photo by Evelina “Foodie” Averyanova and David “Good News” Wichman.

 

Author: Mark Larabee

Mark Larabee is the PCTA's Associate Director of Communications, Advocacy and Government Relations. He is editor of the "PCT Communicator" magazine and manages the association's Congressional advocacy efforts. He is co-author of "The Pacific Crest Trail: Exploring America's Wilderness Trail" published in 2016. Larabee is a journalist, part of a team who won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news for The Oregonian newspaper. He hiked the PCT across Oregon for a 2005 series for the paper and has been with PCTA since 2010. He lives in Portland.