U.S. Senate Passes Great American Outdoors Act to Boost Parks, Recreation & Conservation
WASHINGTON, DC – On a vote of 73-25, the full U.S. Senate passed the Great American Outdoors Act yesterday, fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at $900 million annually and helping to address the maintenance backlog on federal parks and public lands.
The bill, which was supported by U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), includes the Reed-backed Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act (S.1081), guaranteeing full, permanent funding for the LWCF and directing more federal funding to Rhode Island for outdoor recreation.
“President Trump tried to zero out this critical conservation program and essentially put it on the ‘endangered list.’ Instead, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill to permanently fund LWCF and that is a real victory for the environment and conservation. These funds are crucial to Rhode Island and the state can use this money to help upgrade parks, trails, beaches, and wildlife refuges,” said Senator Reed, a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies and a former Chairman of the panel.
The LWCF was permanently authorized by Congress last year, but that did not come with a guarantee it would be funded each year. Congress also allocated a minimum of forty percent of the funding for state grants.
Over the years, Rhode Island has received about $1 million annually from LWCF. Last year, the state’s share of LWCF funding expanded to $1.7 million, a $700,000 increase over 2018 funding levels, after Senator Reed helped allocate additional funds for the program.
“Rhode Island’s beaches, parks, waters, and open spaces are essential to our economy, community, and public health. This legislation will have a lasting impact on protecting public spaces, improving Rhode Island’s outdoor recreational facilities, and expanding opportunities for people to get out and enjoy the great outdoors,” said Senator Reed, who noted the legislation also provides funding to help other public lands address their maintenance backlog, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
At the state level, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) has recently used federal LWCF funding on a variety of projects, such as a new “green” beach pavilion at Lincoln Woods State Park, and upgraded bathroom facilities at Fishermen’s State Park and Campground.
Over the last half century, LWCF has invested more than $74.4 million in Rhode Island to protect the state’s coastlines and historic sites, and increase recreation access.
The Great American Outdoors Act also contains key provisions to provide $9.5 billion in federal funding to address deferred maintenance on America’s public lands and National Parks. The funds may be used to fix a variety of backlog maintenance needs, such as improving outdoor recreation facilities like campgrounds, docks, restrooms, trails, roads, and more. Senator Reed says a portion of this funding may be used to address the $900,000 in deferred maintenance at Roger Williams National Memorial and $2 million in deferred maintenance at Rhode Island’s wildlife refuges.
Rhode Island’s natural and public assets – including 8,200 acres of parkland, 1,000 campsites, 400 miles of hiking and biking trails, 200 fishing spots, 25 parks and nature preserves, and eight saltwater beaches – are magnets, attracting more than nine million Rhode Islanders and tourists a year. They’re also an economic engine for the state that helps generate hundreds of millions of dollars for the economy and supports thousands of jobs across the state.
Identical legislation to the Great American Outdoors Act has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. The measure must now be approved by the House before it can be sent to President Trump to be signed into law.