Great American Outdoors Act Provides Funding to Improve Landmark Western Parks in 2021
Parks across the West are closer to tackling long-needed repairs after Interior Secretary David Bernhardt released a list of projects for the coming year funded through the Great American Outdoors Act. Assembled by a special task force earlier this year, the list includes repairs and improvements to iconic national parks across the country and work on some of the projects is expected to start soon.
The list includes projects for 2021, and all told the Interior Department plans to spend roughly $1.6 billion on more than 160 projects.
“To be eligible for Legacy Restoration Fund dollars in the program’s first year, a project needed to be far enough along in scoping and planning that it was ready to be implemented in 2021. Another important factor was the project’s ability to substantially reduce deferred maintenance,” National Parks spokesperson Jenny Anzelo-Sarles told Western Wire.
“Additional evaluation criteria included addressing health and safety issues, visitation and public use, opportunities to increase public access, accessibility improvements for people with disabilities as well as financial considerations such as cost to maintain things over time and opportunities for public-private partnerships that would leverage federal funding with private dollars,” she continued.
In its first year, the Great American Outdoors Act will improve visitor experiences at landmark parks in the West. In Yellowstone National Park, the act provides funding to replace the 60-year-old Lewis River bridge, which has been in need of significant repairs or a complete replacement for several years. It will also provide funding for the rehabilitation of the Tuolumne campground in Yellowstone National Park, including fixing the surrounding campground roads, installing a hardened parking lot, replacing an aging water distribution system and sewer collection system.
Meanwhile, Glacier National Park in Montana will receive funding to repair the final 9.3 miles of iconic Going to the Sun Road and to replace the bridge over McDonald Creek.
At Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the legislation will fund work to repair the headquarters East Water System and the Moraine Park Campground electrical distribution.
In North Dakota, NPS is funding a project to repair a scenic route through the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
NPS will also invest in deferred road maintenance in the Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming and improve trails.
“We are making significant investments to enhance conservation and recreation opportunities in local communities and on public lands throughout the country,” said Anzelo-Sarles, who emphasized that this was “only the first year of a five-year program” that will be an “unprecedented” investment in public lands.
The projects were selected by a team of technical experts who reviewed proposed project lists across the Interior Department before narrowing down the choice to projects that they judged would best reduce the backlog. Earlier in November, Bernhardt released a secretary’s order instructing departmental staff to prioritize conservation investments that increase public access for recreation, enhance conservation and species recovery when determining how to spend funds from the Great American Outdoors Act and the Land Water Conservation Fund.
National Park staff have complained about aging park water and sewer infrastructure and the long wait for road repairs. In many cases, deferring maintenance on these systems for years has left them in a fragile state. Maintenance needs across all National Parks totals $12 billion.
“Most of our infrastructure is 50 years old or older,” Alan Sumeriski, facilities chief at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, told Pew Charitable Trusts.
“It’s like when the car manufacturer recommends you change your oil every 5,000 miles,” he continued. “If you miss the interval and never scrape together the money to do the required maintenance, your car may run for a while. But you’re living on borrowed time.”
Despite these encouraging developments, activists have attacked the list for lacking detail and blasted the Trump administration for failing to meet the original deadline to submit a project list to Congress.
Passed in July with overwhelming bipartisan support, the Great American Outdoors Act commits up to $1.5 billion annually of the rents and fees garnered by energy and mineral development on multiple-use public lands for five years in order to pay down the maintenance backlog on national parks. It also provides permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund