Common Ground profiles members of opposing parties who are working together to advance issues important to hoteliers.
by SEAN GROSSNICKLE
The National Park System (NPS) has grappled with years of underfunding while also handling a record number of visitors throughout the more than 400 park sites across the nation. After lockdowns warranted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans are finding ways to get out of the house and explore parks, trails, forests, and bodies of water. National parks allow visitors to connect with and understand the breathtaking beauty of our public lands, as well as the history and wonder they preserve. With more visitors, reduced staffing, and a $12-billion backlog in vital infrastructure repairs, the condition of our nation’s park system has been under serious strain.
Back in February, the Trump Administration proposed drastic cuts to the NPS and the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) for the Fiscal Year 2021 budget. The proposed cuts drew criticism from lawmakers, conservationists, park goers, and small businesses near the parks that provide essential services such as lodging and hospitality, which largely depend on visitors to sustain their local economies. Our national parks provide economic value, enrichment, and enjoyment. As Americans flocked to the outdoors following the breakout of the pandemic, Congress shifted into gear to ensure the public lands and LWCF receive both long term funding and protections.
In the spring of 2019, the late Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) introduced H.R. 1957, the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA). The economic impacts of the pandemic, especially those on the travel and tourism industry, reignited the discourse on the NPS, public lands, and LWCF. In March, the GAOA remerged with amendments, drawing widespread bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress. Congress passed the historic GAOA by a vote of 73 to 25 in the Senate and then by a vote of 310 to 107 in the House. The President signed the bill into law in early August, securing billions of dollars in funding to address the backlog of park maintenance and guaranteeing $900 million per year in perpetuity for the LWCF.
Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), Sponsor of GAOA
“When we take our air, waters, and land for granted; when we show a simple lack of respect for nature and our environment, we unmake God’s good creation. Humanity is the most important endangered species under threat from climate change and yet we flood our ecology with poisons and pollution. It is my belief that our country needs better environmental protections and that real protections do not have to come at the expense of jobs or our economy. Whatever we do to the earth, we do to each other.”
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), Introduced GAOA in Senate
“Years of bipartisan work have led to this moment and this historic opportunity for conservation. Today the Senate passed not only the single greatest conservation achievement in generations but also a lifeline to mountain towns and recreation communities hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. I call on the House of Representatives to pass this bill without delay in order to provide jobs to the American people, economic stimulus to communities in need, and protections for the great American outdoors for future generations of Americans to cherish.”