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Op-ed: Thank you for backing the Great American Outdoors Act

Outdoor spaces are often at the center of vibrant communities. Their critical role has been highlighted in even newer important ways in recent months, underscoring the need to conserve, maintain and improve access to these places. Protecting important natural spaces and investing in their care will help create jobs, rebuild local economies and expand access to the outdoors that everyone has a right to enjoy.

In an historic vote for nature, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed the Great American Outdoors Act, echoing the passage of the Senate just a few weeks ago. This is a giant step forward for conserving America’s natural landscapes, and we at The Nature Conservancy in West Virginia thank Sen. Joe Manchin and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito for their leadership in the Senate and Rep. Carol Miller, who voted ‘yes’ in the House.

Once signed by the President, the Great American Outdoors Act bill will fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and allow for major investments to care for our national parks and other public lands. This bill will support and stimulate the outdoor recreation industry that generates more than 5.2 million American jobs and contributes $778 billion in national economic output each year.

The investments in this bill are not just investments in conservation, but in people — both their access to nature and their jobs and livelihoods that often depend on it.

The first part of the Great American Outdoors Act provides full and permanent funding of $900 million each year for LWCF, the amount it is authorized to receive from offshore oil and gas revenues

LWCF has helped preserve forests, open spaces, watersheds and other landscapes in every state, including West Virginia’s own New River Gorge, Cheat Canyon and the Monongahela National Forest — all iconic backdrops to some of our most cherished memories and outdoor adventures.

Research on the impact of the LWCF shows that $1 spent generates $4 in economic value from natural resource goods and services alone, and that every $1 million invested in LWCF could support up to 30 jobs — a win for West Virginia’s economic future.

The second part of the bill is set to invest $1.9 billion annually for the next five years to help address a massive backlog of unmet maintenance needs at national parks and other public lands. The National Park Service alone reports over 325 million visits each year, bringing opportunities for safe places to exercise, rejuvenate and improve our well-being. And, the economic benefits from those visits support local communities. Visitor spending at stores, hotels, gas stations and restaurants supports nearly 330,000 annual jobs and over $40 billion in total national economic output.

1Even beyond that, this will create additional jobs. The National Park Service is responsible for protecting and managing tens of thousands of roads and bridges, trails, historic buildings, employee housing, wastewater and electrical systems, military fortifications, monuments and memorials, and seawalls. Investments to fix these sites could generate nearly 110,000 additional infrastructure-related jobs.

All told, the Great American Outdoors Act will improve access to nature in places both close to home and worth traveling to when it is safe to do so–all while being a part of the solution for some of our economic, health and societal challenges.

We again thank senators Manchin and Capito, and Rep. Carol Miller, for supporting the Great American Outdoors Act. This historic bill will be a large step in supporting West Virginia’s economic wellbeing and bolstering the state’s natural beauty.

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Thomas Minney is executive director at The Nature Conservancy in West Virginia, and Beth Wheatley is director of external affairs and strategic initiatives at The Nature Conservancy in West Virginia.

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