05:19 - Source: CNN
He walked 750 miles through the Grand Canyon to save it

Editor’s Note: Joe Manchin is West Virginia’s senior senator and the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Prior to being elected to the Senate in 2010, Sen. Manchin served as West Virginia’s governor and secretary of state. He is an avid fisher and hunter and enjoys sharing his passion for the outdoors with his family. Sen. Cory Gardner is a fifth-generation Coloradan and a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. In 2020, Cory was ranked the third most bipartisan senator by The Lugar Center for his work in the 116th Congress to build consensus, elevate the tenor of debate, practice civility, and advance legislation on pressing issues. The views expressed are their own. View more opinion at CNN.

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Setting aside our natural treasures to be owned and enjoyed by the public at large was one of the most forward thinking ideas in our country’s history. Growing up in Colorado and West Virginia, our childhoods were marked with field trips and adventures in our country’s majestic public lands. Whether it was hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park or the woods of North Central West Virginia, we learned to appreciate the great American outdoors.

Joe Manchin
Cory Gardner

Now, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to protect these national parks and pass them on to the next generation in even better shape. The Great American Outdoors Act – a piece of legislation we have worked on for years with bipartisan support – will reinvest in these outdoor spaces by allocating billions of dollars for repairs and maintenance projects that have been put off for too long. The landmark bill will simultaneously boost our conservation efforts and local economies by enhancing and protecting these natural treasures while putting Americans to work at a time when we need it most.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the economic crisis we face only give us more reason to invest in our national infrastructure and lands. According to the most recent data available from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the outdoor recreation economy contributed $427.2 billion to our gross domestic product in 2017, employed approximately 5.2 million Americans, and generated tax revenue for schools and local governments. Outdoor recreation communities have been hard hit throughout this pandemic as ski and white-water rafting seasons have been disrupted, while hotels have remained empty, and restaurants have closed their doors. It’s never been more important to ensure public lands and the communities that surround them have the resources and investments to help create jobs and increase economic activity.

In 1965, Congress established the Land and Water Conservation Fund with the idea of using revenue generated from offshore energy development to fund improvements on public lands at no cost to taxpayers. The LWCF has increased access for Americans to hunt, fish, camp, and enjoy recreational activities on their public lands. It has protected and expanded access for conservation in all 50 states, the territories, and nearly every county. But despite the program’s wide bipartisan support and popularity across the country, the LWCF has only received the full funding of $900 million twice in its entire history. Our Great American Outdoors Act would ensure the LWCF is fully funded every year moving forward. Last year we led our colleagues in the House and Senate to permanently authorize this important program, and providing it with full funding now means more conservation projects across our country will become reality.

Our National Parks have been more popular in the last five years than they’ve ever been. With an influx of visitors over the years, maintenance needs and projects have piled up. Neglecting to address these needs has resulted in a backlog of more than $20 billion of deferred maintenance projects on our federal public lands, according to a recent congressional study. In addition to providing full and permanent funding for the LWCF, the Great American Outdoors Act would address this backlog and fund repairs for roads, trails, visitor centers, and other infrastructure projects across our national parks, national forests, and other public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Indian Education.

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    The construction and park maintenance jobs this legislation will provide are shovel-ready. Americans are eager to work. And we are on the cusp of the greatest conservation achievement of our lifetimes that will benefit every state and help communities in need recover from this pandemic.

    Congress must work together to get this crowning achievement for conservation to the President’s desk. We are confident that the US Senate will pass the Great American Outdoors Act this week with a strong bipartisan vote, and we encourage the House of Representatives to pass it without delay. This is not a partisan issue – there aren’t Republican or Democratic public lands. Preserving and taking care of our public lands benefits the entire country for generations to come.