Great American Outdoors Act passes

Great American Outdoors Act passes

Legislation fully and permanently funds LWCF, addresses maintenance backlog

by Partnership for the National Trails System
Adapted from news releases and advocacy and policy updates

The Partnership for the National Trails System is thrilled that the decades-long effort to fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and address the backlog of maintenance and construction on our public lands has resulted in passage of the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) with strong bipartisan support.

The President signed the Act into law on August 4, 2020, thus fully funding LWCF starting in Fiscal Year 2021 (which began October 1, 2020) and establishing an annual expenditure of dedicated funds to address deferred maintenance needs on Federal lands over a five-year timeframe, also starting in FY21. 

The implementation clock started ticking immediately after enactment, beginning with a 90-day period during which the Federal agencies are expected to prepare and send to Congress specific project lists identifying how the first year of funding for both LWCF and deferred maintenance would be spent. The Partnership is engaged with our Federal agency partners on the GAOA implementation effort and will remain attentive to any developments as it moves forward in the coming months. Working with our member organizations and nonprofit partners, we want to make sure we identify opportunities through GAOA to further trail protection and improvements.

In the midst of an incredibly challenging time, Congress has taken a bold step to invest in communities and special places all across the nation for the benefit of people and the protection of our natural resources in ways that will endure for generations to come. It is gratifying to see that this issue has brought people together rather than further divide us.

The Partnership is incredibly grateful to those who worked on this legislative effort for over 30 years and who worked so hard to get us to this day. Given how long we’ve been at it, the list of those we want to thank is pages long. In this moment, we especially want to acknowledge the GAOA’s lead sponsors in the House—Reps. Joe Cunningham (SC-1) and Mike Simpson (ID-2), House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raul Grijalva (AZ-3)—and House leadership for moving the bill so quickly in July (310-107) following Senate passage in June (73-25). We also thank those who led action in the Senate—Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Rob Portman (R-OH) and Mark Warner (D-VA)—as well Senate leadership for making this important legislation a priority.

The National Trails System’s congressionally designated 30 scenic and historic trails are a critical part of America’s impressive public lands and provide spectacular outdoor recreation and cultural experiences. There is at least one national trail in each of our 50 States. These 30 trails connect with 84 national parks, 89 national forests, 70 national wildlife refuges, over 100 BLM public land areas, 179 national wilderness areas, and more than 230 major urban areas and trail towns. Over the years, substantial funding from LWCF has helped build out the trail footpath, protect viewsheds, and conserve important historic and cultural resources that help tell this country’s unique stories. Maintenance and construction funding have ensured that the trail experience is a positive one for millions of visitors each year. But there is much more to do to complete the length and breadth of the National Trails System as envisioned by Congress. We also recognize the importance of creating accessible, safe, and welcoming trail experiences for all users.

The Partnership and its member organizations look forward to working with our public agencies, local communities, and Congress to use GAOA funds to full effect along our scenic and historic trails, ensuring that the National Trails System remains a world-class public land resource for all people now and well into the future.

Learn how the Land and Water Conservation Fund has protected national scenic and historic trails by viewing this photo album:

Unless otherwise indicated, all material in Pathways Across America is public domain. All views expressed herein are perspectives of individuals working on behalf of the National Trails System and do not necessarily represent the viewpoint of the Federal agencies.