U.S. Congress Passes Great American Outdoors Act

IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 22, 2020
Contact: Ben Alexandro, balexandro@mdlcv.org, 845-596-9634

U.S. Congress Passes Great American Outdoors Act

Landmark bill will protect open spaces in Maryland and throughout the United States

Washington, D.C. – By a bipartisan vote of 310-107, the U.S. House of Representatives today passed the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA), a landmark environmental bill that will restore parks and public lands in Maryland and across the country and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Act (LWCF). The bill, which passed the Senate on June 17, now heads to the White House for President Trump’s signature.

“The passage of the Great American Outdoors Act is a significant victory for Maryland,” said Maryland League of Conservation Voters Executive Director, Kim Coble. “The bill guarantees that Marylanders will have access to clean, safe, and healthy parks for years to come.”

The Great American Outdoors Act will allow the National Park Service to restore resources that are deteriorating due to age and inconsistent funding. In Maryland alone, park sites that welcome nearly 7 million visitors and support more than 2,900 jobs each year require $244 million in repairs. The now-permanent LWCF funding is significant for Maryland: The state has received $231.8 million in LWCF funding over the past five decades, protecting places such as the Assateague Island National Seashore, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Monocacy National Battlefield and the C&O Canal National Historic Park. Maryland also uses LWCF to leverage additional funds, such as state Program Open Space money that funds hundreds of facilities and creates access to local and state parks.

Coble lauded the role of Majority Leader Steny Hoyer in shepherding the Great American Outdoors Act through Congress. “For decades, Marylanders have always known that Steny Hoyer would go to the mat for Maryland’s special places,” said Coble. “His tremendous leadership in moving the Great American Outdoors Act through Congress will provide lasting benefits to Marylanders and all Americans.”

The Maryland League of Conservation and its members weighed in heavily in support of the Great American Outdoors Act. Early in July, Maryland LCV organized 36 Maryland conservation groups to urge Rep. Hoyer’s continued leadership, and Maryland LCV reached hundreds of thousands of Marylanders through drive-time radio ads and extensive on-line advocacy in both English and Spanish. 

Here are quotes from other Maryland organizations that joined with us in advocating for the Great American Outdoors Act:

“Our parks are inundated with people — a great problem to have, but our parks need help so they can remain treasures that connect people to nature while preserving delicate ecosystems. The Great American Outdoors Act is that help,” said Emily Ranson, Clean Water Action, Maryland Director.

“The Alice Ferguson Foundation applauds Majority Leader Hoyer’s continuous leadership of environmental causes both locally and nationally. The Great American Outdoors Act will continue to ensure our national parks thrive for future generations,” said Theresa Cullen, Executive Director, Alice Ferguson Foundation.

“GAOA funding will support our Urban parks and recreational spaces that are used by millions of people close to home,” said  Jim Foster, President, Anacostia Watershed Society.

“This passage of the Great American Outdoors Act ensures that our irreplaceable Maryland parks and public lands will continue to be protected, and that all Marylanders will have access to nature. By continuing to provide funds for our parks we help cool our communities with green spaces as climate change heats up, and create opportunities to expand outdoor education programming,” said Denisse Guitarra, MD Conservation Advocate at Audubon Naturalist Society.

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 Maryland LCV is known for educating lawmakers and holding them accountable for their leadership and votes on key environmental issues. Their annual scorecard, along with other reports, help inform voters about their legislators’ records.

Maryland League of Conservation Voters
30 West Street, Suite C
Annapolis, MD 21401
www.mdlcv.org

Keeping Parks Great and Green

By Kelly Peaks, 2020 Summer InternIntern Kelly out in nature

As a child, I remember always looking forward to playing in my local park, Louise F Cosca Park, after school. I loved the tire swing, the monkey bars, and, as far as my childhood brain could comprehend, the “life-size” pirate ship. I cherish those afternoons making friends with children in my community as we ran along the pond. Or the many church picnics that were held in the park’s recreational spaces. 

Parks have always been an important part of my life and have had a hand in shaping who I am today. These community parks that I frequented, Louise F Cosca, Watkins Regional Park, Henson Creek Park, and many more were partially funded by grants from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The upcoming House vote on Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) will strengthen park protections and ensure that national parks, as well as local parks, are able to be properly maintained and funded.

Parks have held a special place in my heart because they housed so many life events. One of those celebrations was the annual church picnics my family and I attended. The church picnics were a great way to bond with other parishioners outside of the church. My favorite activity was the nature walk where we would follow one of the many park trails. If we were fortunate enough to be in Watkins park, we would be able to ride the mini train that circled the property. Many of the families that attended the picnic lived in DC, so they didn’t readily have access to larger parks. The picnics were a wonderful way to provide the children with access to nature and teach them to respect and appreciate nature as an important part of our faith.

As a 24-year-old adult, I’ve outgrown the playground, but I’ve come to appreciate the other facets that parks have to offer. Access to nature and wildlife, beautiful views, and trails are only some of my favorite park activities. Since this pandemic has forced many of us to work from home, parks have become a place of solace. Parks have become such a popular destination because they are some of the only places we can enjoy while still being able to safely socially distance. 

The past few weeks my family has spent quite a few afternoons walking along the path in Henson Creek Park. It has felt amazing to have a way to safely get out of the house and to find some sense of normalcy. There were families there teaching their kids to ride a bike, observing the local wildlife, and simply bonding with nature. 

Personally, sitting inside all day, every day, can take a toll on my mental health. The times I’m able to take a break and take a walk have helped clear my head, boost my mood, and aid with efficiency. If I didn’t have access to parks, I think that self-quarantining would be more difficult for me. I am so thankful to have access to many parks in my district and hope that they remain open and cared for so that everyone can have access to nature for the duration of this quarantine.

The LWCF is a program that was created by Congress in 1964 to protect the nation’s natural and culturally significant areas and the resources around them, as well as provide recreational areas for citizens to enjoy. The program includes funds for National parks and refuges but also provides grants for states and localities that go towards smaller, community parks.

Every year, revenue from offshore oil and gas is supposed to go towards this fund, but a large portion of this money has been diverted from parks. Because of this, there is a backlog of maintenance needs totaling almost $30 billion, over $244 million in Maryland alone. The diversion of funds is jeopardizing park infrastructure, which endangers visitors’ health, safety, and enjoyment of parks. 

This is where the GAOA comes in to address these challenges by providing a more dedicated source of funding. It promises to end the diversion of funds and ensures that they are spent on their intended purpose: parks. It will also establish the National Parks and Public Lands Legacy Fund which will direct money towards park repairs. Just last month, U.S. Senate passed the Great American Outdoors Act. This is partially due to strong support from our great Maryland Senators as well as House Majority Leader, Steny Hoyer. 

Rep. Hoyer has announced that at the end of this month this legislation will be voted on in the House, and with its strong bipartisan support, he is optimistic that it will pass and will officially be signed into law. I am grateful to Rep. Hoyer as well as our state senators for their leadership and commitment to bring it to the floor and I hope that it will pass. 

I’ve noticed maintenance issues over the past few years in these smaller parks. It has been little things like broken swings, fallen trees, and unkept trails. With the pandemic and the backlog of maintenance issues, these small things can turn into larger problems that prevent people from enjoying their local parks. In times like these, where nature is one of the only safe places that we can escape to, we need legislation like the Great American Outdoors Act to improve our parks and provide us with spaces to clear our minds, bond with family, and build lasting memories.

I hope you join me in adding your name to our petition to get this legislation passed. 

By |2020-07-13T13:47:31-04:00July 13th, 2020|Categories: Blog, Clean Water and the Bay|Tags: , , , , |0 Comments