Funding for America’s public lands is closer to becoming a reality after the Senate’s passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, which provides funding to cover billions of dollars of backlogged maintenance projects at national parks and public lands.

With the news last week that the House plans to vote on the legislation by the end of July, western leaders, conservationists, industry, and lovers of the outdoors are excited by this one-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest in America’s public lands and to preserve access to them for generations to come.

“This is very exciting,” said Warren Unsicker, director of development for Farmington, New Mexico, who told Western Wire that the support for public lands “fits perfectly with our mission scope here to expand outdoor recreation.”

Though the year has been off to an uneven start given COVID-19 and the accompanying shutdowns, he is confident that the many outdoor activities northern New Mexico offers will attract visitors.

“Outdoor recreation is a good place be, especially as people are looking to socially distance and get out in a responsible way,” he said. “Being the center of adventure, we are going to benefit from expansion and investment in public trails and parks.”

While the fine details of how the legislation will impact New Mexico parks outside of Farmington like the Chaco Culture National Historic Park are still being worked out, optimism is growing around the economic benefits around the West.

“Senate passage is a critical step to restoring our national parks and protecting recreation access on our public lands,” said Marcia Argust, Project Director of the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Restore America’s Parks Campaign.  “It will also create jobs in communities that depend on these places for their economic stability, especially during these times when many Americans are renewing their connection to the great outdoors.”

Western leaders agreed, explaining that, because of the important role tourism plays to the area economy, support for public lands benefits many programs and services across the broader community.

“Whether it’s to scale the heart of the Rockies, hike the foothills and prairies in and around Fort Collins, or to paddle Colorado’s only nationally designated Wild and Scenic River, Northern Colorado’s public lands and the visitors who come to see them are a vital source of funding for everything from hospitals to highways, emergency preparedness and essential services,” wrote Fort Collins, Colorado Mayor Wade Troxell and Colorado Senator Cory Garner (R) in an op-ed earlier this week.

The Great American Outdoors Act would dedicate a portion of the royalties and fees paid by energy and mineral producers operating on federal lands towards a National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund and provide NPS with the funds to reinvest in aging buildings, roads, trails, and other park infrastructure.

Western Wire documented some of the needs national parks face in a series of stories last fall profiling Mesa Verde National Park, Glacier National Park, Chaco Canyon National Historic Park, and Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.

Addressing the $12 billion maintenance backlog across the National Parks Service will allow the parks to better serve the millions of visitors they receive each year and provide funding for continuing conservation efforts. Improved park infrastructure will be a boon to the tourism industry, which is praising the Great American Outdoors Act as an investment that will pay out for years to come.

“As Americans across the country emerge from stay at home orders, there is an intense desire to get back to our cherished national lands. The Great American Outdoors Act offers innovative solutions and sustainable funding that will address the deferred maintenance backlog and ensure the safety and enjoyment for Americans today and decades to come,” said Jay Landers vice president of the RV Industry Association.

Sportsmen and off-roading vehicle enthusiasts agree and are commending the bill for its investment in public lands.

“Having access to outdoor recreation, including riding trails for dirt bikes, ATVs, and side-by-sides, is immensely beneficial for the physical and mental well- being of Americans — especially in these times,” said Erik Pritchard, president and CEO of the Motorcycle Industry Council.

Jeff Crane, president of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, called the legislation the largest commitment to conservation and public lands in our lifetime. He said it “will pay dividends for hunters, anglers, fish, wildlife, other natural resources and our nation’s outdoor recreation economy for generations to come.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic and associated shutdowns decreasing travel and tourism, the timing of the bill’s passage is even more significant, since the projects it funds will provide needed jobs in many gateway communities.

“Funding the deferred maintenance backlog issues will create more than 100,000 jobs and add $17.4 billion in economic output for the economy, which is desperately needed at this time,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “This bill will also help to make certain that national parks are critical centers of leisure travel and economic activity for the foreseeable future.”