Eric Artz: Supporting the Great American Outdoors Act

As the coronavirus continues to upend our daily routines, people across the nation are rediscovering the many benefits of time outdoors. Whether for exercise, mental health or social reconnection, we’re being reminded of just how much enjoying nature is part of human nature. We cannot let this moment pass without reinforcing and increasing access to the outdoors for all of us. We need the House of Representatives to pass the Great American Outdoors Act.

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More than ever, families are discovering local parks they had never explored, many are riding their bikes for the first time in a while, and people of all ages are turning to parks as the perfect venue for a walk or jog. As researchers at the University of Washington have noted, “nature contact offers considerable promise in addressing a range of health challenges…that are public health priorities.”

Born out of the current crisis, this new enthusiasm for getting outside is a positive cultural shift and deserves long-term support from policymakers. We need to adopt policies that provide recreation opportunities for those that lack them, conserve more lands and waters to meet growing demand, and protect and strengthen the lands and waters that are already managed by federal agencies.

Leaders from both sides of the aisle have come together to assemble the Great American Outdoors Act by combining two ambitious pieces of legislation—The Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act and The Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act. The package would provide $900 million annually to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a program that supports local, state and federal parks. And it would provide billions of dollars to help eliminate the maintenance backlogs that for years have been burdening our federal lands and waters. It will help more people access the outdoors safely and elevate the experience for decades to come.

By re-committing to increased recreation access, we also have the chance to both bridge our political divides and support the economy. Nowhere have we seen such bipartisan support (nor with such frequency) than in the recent history of outdoor recreation policy. Important differences remain, but just over a year ago, Congress passed landmark public lands legislation with overwhelming bipartisan support. Just over three years ago, it unanimously passed a law that began federal measurement of outdoor recreation’s economic impact. As of last September, that contribution amounted to 2.2% of GDP and directly supported 5.2 million jobs. Elected officials of all stripes recognize that our parks and public lands are natural infrastructure and job engines. Just like other sectors of the economy, this one needs bolstering too.

During times like these when outdoor recreation means so much to so many, it’s critical that we come together and urge the House of Representatives to unite again around the value of our great outdoors and pass this important bill. Even amid the tumult of a pandemic, we have a historic chance to do good and to expand outdoor recreation opportunities for ourselves, for those without ready access to parks, and for future generations.

If you’d like to contact your representative and ask them to pass the Great American Outdoors Act, you can use this tool created by our partners at Outdoor Alliance.