In a ceremony held at the White House on Tuesday, President Trump signed the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA), enacting one of the largest investments in public lands in American history.

“After decades of abandonment and neglect, we’re once again taking care of America’s historic sites, lush forests, towering mountains, windswept — and beautiful windswept prairies, and precious wetlands and wildlife,” said Trump, who described the bill as carrying on the “noble legacy” of Theodore Roosevelt.  “President Theodore Roosevelt was right when he called these exquisite resources ’the most glorious heritage a people ever received.’”

The public lands bill commits a portion of the royalties paid by energy producers operating on federal lands toward addressing $12 billion of backlogged maintenance at national parks. Over the next five years, the legislation will provide $6.65 billion in funding for maintenance projects that have piled up at national parks across the country. The bill also provides dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R, Col.) speaks at the Great American Outdoors Act signing ceremony.

“This bill will create 100,000 jobs, several thousand in my home state of Colorado.  It will protect the

Forest Service, our Fish and Wildlife Service, our wildlife refuges, our BLM grounds,” said Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner (R). “This will work on our national parks.  This will stop Congress from stealing the money that they have for decades, and put it back into the national parks for generations to come.”

Parks across the country have struggled for years to maintain park infrastructure, including roads, visitor centers, administrative offices, and staff housing on limited budgets. The current maintenance backlog stands at nearly $12 billion and includes hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of projects at landmark American parks, including $700 million for Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks in Montana, and nearly $85 million for Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.

Western Wire covered the impact of the maintenance backlog on parks across the West in a four part series. Read our first story on Mesa Verde National Park here, our second story on Glacier National Park here, and our fourth story on Arches and Canyonlands National Parks here.

Montana Sen. Steven Daines (R)

“This was going to be the greatest achievement in 50 years for conservation, in its broadest context,” said Montana Sen. Steve Daines (R), a longtime supporter of the legislation. “This is a big win for conservation.  It’s a big win for jobs.  It’s a big win for our Montana way of life.  It’s a big win for bipartisanship.”

Other policymakers agreed, reiterating the historic nature of the legislation and the investment it makes in public lands. Interior Secretary Bernhardt described how President Ronald Reagan initially appointed a commission to look at “America’s Great Outdoors” in 1985. Led by then-Governor Lamar Alexander (R, Tenn.), the commission drafted a proposal to provide funding for the national parks and the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

“Last night, I added it up: five presidents, nine secretaries of the Interior, and 10 secretaries of Agriculture have worked on legislation to accomplish fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund, or enhancing our nation’s parks by addressing in the backlog,” said Bernhardt. “Only one president has gotten that done.”

The speakers shared the feeling that the dollars spent were an investment in the country and a treasure owned by all Americans and held in trust for future generations.

“America’s natural landscapes belong to the American people.  And while I’m President, we will always protect the great outdoors for hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, and the admiration, enjoyment, and reverence of every American citizen,” said Trump. “We will preserve the stunning beauty of the American and the Americas and this nation.”