Great American Outdoors Act could help Voyageurs, Isle Royale

Photo by daveynin via Flickr

For decades, America’s National Parks and other public lands have been putting off needed repairs and maintenance. There has simply been a much greater need for funds than what was available through annual appropriations. Roads, buildings and other facilities have suffered.

A law passed by Congress this year, and signed by President Donald Trump on Tuesday, August 5 will help. The Great American Outdoors Act will provide $9.5 billion over five years to the National Park Service to start catching up on its huge maintenance backlog. The Park Service estimates it has an overall backlog of at least $12.5 billion.

“You cannot overstate the importance of this bill and what it will mean for national parks, public lands and communities across the country,” said Theresa Pierno, President and CEO for the National Parks Conservation Association. “This is the largest investment our country has made in our national parks and public lands in more than 50 years, and it comes not a moment too soon.”

A landmark legacy

The legislation will also make permanent a program that takes federal revenue from offshore oil drilling and uses it to protect land and water across the country. The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has previously helped add land to Voyageurs National Park, in northern Minnesota.

Courtesy National Park Service

Last year, LWCF funding helped Voyageurs acquire a six-acre parcel of land on the Kabetogama Peninsula, with help from Voyageurs National Park Association. LWCF funding has been subject to off-and-on authorization by Congress, but is now guaranteed.

Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith of Minnesota were original Senate co-authors for the legislation.

“From our lakes, to our park trails, to the Boundary Waters, Minnesotans take pride in our love of the outdoors,” said Klobuchar. “I am proud of our bipartisan success in passing historic legislation that invests in our commitment to ensuring our nation’s trails, public lands, parks and open spaces remain protected and accessible for generations.”

Numerous groups and elected officials worked for years to pass the legislation. “The Great American Outdoors Act is the culmination of years of work by many conservation groups and allies from across the U.S.,” said Christina Hausman, executive director of Voyageurs National Park Association. “It finally permanently funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund and enables significant investments towards the staggering backlog of infrastructure and maintenance work that has languished in our National Parks.”

Millions needed in Minnesota

The funding has not yet been allocated to individual parks. That process will likely take a while, so no decisions have yet been made about whether parks in the Quetico-Superior region will receive assistance.

The legislation instructs the Trump administration to submit to Congress a list of priority projects. After that, presidents will be expected to include such a list in their annual budget proposals. Congress will then appropriate the funds.

“When these funds are made available to parks, Voyageurs National Park Association will work closely with our Park Service partner to identify projects where philanthropy, combined with GAOA monies, can make the greatest impact,” Hausman said.

The backlog of deferred maintenance at Voyageurs adds up to about $10 million. It adds up to nearly $18 million at Isle Royale National Park. Priorities at Voyageurs include repairing the Kettle Falls lakewall and rehabilitating docks at harbors and campsites across the park. While the bulk of the funding will be used by the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, which manages the Superior National Forest and Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, is also due to receive 15 percent of the funds.

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