WASHINGTON, DC – The House of Representatives Wednesday passed bipartisan legislation cosponsored by U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) — the Great American Outdoors Act — to preserve and protect our country’s public lands and National Parks, like the Fifth District’s Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and all 72 miles of the Appalachian Trail that run through the Garden State.
The bill will provide permanent and full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and address the multibillion maintenance backlog in our National Parks and other land management agencies. The bill will also establish the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund.
The bipartisan bill, which passed the Senate last month, will now go to the President’s desk for signature — to ensure critical investments in our national parks, public lands, and conservation efforts today and into the future, as well to create more than 100,000 jobs across the U.S. at a time when they are needed most.
Earlier in July, the Problem Solvers Caucus, co-chaired by Gottheimer, officially endorsed the Great American Outdoors Act.
“This vital legislation — which the Problem Solvers Caucus endorsed and I proudly cosponsored — will address the massive maintenance backlog impacting our National Parks and will invest in projects that will help create jobs during this economic crisis and in the future. As we continue social distancing, we must take care of our National Parks so Americans have places to enjoy nature and the great outdoors,” Gottheimer said. “I’m very blessed to have the most beautiful District in the State of New Jersey, with all 72 miles of the Appalachian Trail that run through the Garden State, as well as the magnificent Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. We must work together to preserve these natural treasures for our future generations.”
“The Land and Water Conservation Fund has never had stable funding, making the Great American Outdoors Act a welcome, but overdue investment in public lands. The Delaware River Watershed states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware have all benefited from previous Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars, and we’re excited to see permanent and increased funding flow to our outdoor recreation infrastructure and protect land from development in the watershed,” said Sandra Meola, Director, Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed. “The Delaware River Watershed’s parks and open spaces are a haven for outdoor recreation, from hiking to kayaking to fishing. Preserving these spaces is not only good for our physical and mental well-being, it’s also good for the economy.”
Previously, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has provided funding to locations in all four Delaware River Watershed states, including the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (NY and PA), Upper Delaware Scenic & Recreational River (NY and PA), Brandywine Battlefield (PA), Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (PA and NJ), Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge (PA), John Heinz Tinicum National Wildlife Reserve (PA), Pinelands National Reserve (NJ), Cape May National Wildlife Refuge (NJ), Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge (DE), and Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge (DE), Meola said.
Created in 1964, the Land and Water Conservation Fund was established to “safeguard natural areas, water resources, and cultural heritage; and to provide recreation opportunities to all Americans.” The program involves land acquisition to safeguard wilderness from development and provides local grants for the restoration and protection of parks, monuments, and trails.
“The Land and Water Conservation Fund has benefited Delaware’s natural resources in the past, and we’re looking forward to this continued investment in conservation. Since the fund’s inception, Delaware has received a total of $61.2 million in federal funding through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, $24.3 million through the federal land acquisition grants program and $36.9 million through annual allocation to states. Federal funding has supported many projects, including restoration at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge and supplementing funding for projects like the Southbridge Wilmington Wetlands Park,” said Anne Harper, Executive Director, Delaware Nature Society.
While the Great American Outdoors Act provides $9.5 billion to fix and repair aged national park infrastructure, the National Park Service recently estimated its deferred maintenance at $12 billion. The U.S. National Park Service has identified three locations in the Delaware River Watershed in need of funds for deferred maintenance on roads, structures, buildings, and capital improvements: the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (PA and NJ) has a $161 million need, the Upper Delaware Scenic & Recreational River has a $4 million need (NY and PA), and First State National Historical Park (DE) has a $2 million need, Meola said.
“The Land and Water Conservation Fund is our nation’s most important conservation funding program helping to protect special places in the Delaware River Watershed, such as the Appalachian National Scenic Trail viewshed and corridor, and more recently, over 4,000 acres of land for Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge. With full and dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the pace of conservation can accelerate and access to the outdoors expanded for everyone,” said Mark Zakutansky, Director of Conservation Policy Engagement, Appalachian Mountain Club.