TRENTON, N.J. – In a big win for conservation and bi-partisanship collaboration, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Great American Outdoors Act (310 to 107) on July 22, 2020. The Great American Outdoors Act will permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million a year and provide $9.5 billion over five years to repair aged infrastructure at national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and recreation areas.
These dollars will benefit outdoor areas in the Delaware River Watershed (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware) through Land and Water Conservation Fund programs. The Senate passed the Great American Outdoors Act by 73 to 25 on June 17th. It now heads to the President Trump who is expected to sign the bill into law.
“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).
“The Great American Outdoors Act is a landmark piece of legislation in conservation history. It will ensure our natural resources and outdoor recreation areas endure for future generations here in New Jersey, in the Delaware River Watershed, and across America. This legislation will also accelerate our economic recovery from the recent public health crisis by creating thousands of jobs and supporting an outdoor recreation economy. I’m proud to lead this bipartisan legislation in the House and send it to the President’s desk,” stated Representative Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11).
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,” added 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.
“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.
The Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed is a network of over 150 non-governmental organizations located in NY, NJ, PA, and DE, and are dedicated to protecting and restoring the natural resources of the Delaware River Basin. For more information, visit click here.