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Opinion: 1 year later, the Great American Outdoors Act is already securing Missouri’s public lands

We are at the beginning of a public lands renaissance

The Great American Outdoors Act, the most significant conservation and recreation legislation passed in decades, was signed one year ago into law. Already, we’re starting to see the benefits for Missouri’s public lands.

When thinking back to last summer, it’s perhaps surprising that amid an election year and the fiercest partisan tensions of a generation, lawmakers from both aisles of Congress were able to come together to pass any legislation at all. But the Great American Outdoors Act demonstrates that Americans, with many different political beliefs, agree on at least one thing: protecting America’s natural heritage is essential.

Bridget Sanderson

The Great American Outdoors Act fully and permanently funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) which protects millions of acres of our nation’s most beautiful and irreplaceable public lands across our country, including national parks, wildlife refuges, state parks, and community parks. GAOA also invests billions in updating our decades-old public lands infrastructure.

Here in Missouri, LWCF has funded everything from Ozark National Scenic Riverway to the Macon County Park. With the Great American Outdoors Act, the funding for these shared natural treasures is guaranteed for the foreseeable future.

“Missouri has long been a national leader in conservation efforts, and we are committed to preserving our state’s abundant natural resources,” Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said. “From our alluring lakes, rivers, and streams to our famous Ozark Mountains, Missouri state parks offer some of the best destinations to experience wildlife, explore scenic beauty, and enjoy outdoor recreational activities with friends and family. This year we authorized more than $60 million in bonding authority to improve and maintain our state parks. The Great American Outdoors Act is complementing our state efforts, and this bipartisan achievement will help preserve Missouri’s public lands and natural beauty for generations to come.”

Cody Norris with the Mark Twain National Forest echoed the importance of the Great American Outdoors Act and its impact on the Mark Twain National Forest.

“Since the pandemic, we have seen an increase in visitorship; people have been wanting to get outdoors and enjoy camping,” Norris said. “Because of this funding, we are able to not only provide safer conditions for returning visitors but we are able to welcome new visitors to show the importance of our public lands, nature, and the ecosystem.”

He pointed to the Lane Spring electrical upgrade and hydrant replacement project as an example.

“We only had one electrical outlet in that popular campsite, and new visitors were deterred from coming with their RVs because the one outlet was reserved,” he said “Now we can provide more electrical outlets to encourage people to come to our park”

The Great American Outdoors Act marks the first major infrastructure investment in public lands in more than 50 years. Our public lands agencies, such as the National Parks Service and the Bureau of Land Management, have tens of thousands of desperately needed maintenance and repair projects. The law invests $9.5 billion over the next five years to update bridges, trails, roads, campgrounds, and visitor centers.

Before the Great American Outdoors Act was passed, Environment Missouri and its national partner Environment America had been working to expand permanent funding for the LWCF for several years, serving as a continual presence on Capitol Hill and in congressional districts in support of this critical public lands program.

At the same time, the Great American Outdoors Act never would have passed without the leadership of lawmakers like Congressman Billy Long and Congressman Emanuel Cleaver who put aside partisan differences and worked together to protect America’s public lands.

Congress should consider building on this bipartisan consensus around protecting our beautiful outdoor spaces by working both to reconnect habitat with wildlife corridors and to fund state wildlife action plans for species of greatest conservation need. We need more nature in this country, and the Great American Outdoors Act is playing a crucial role in making that happen.

Americans of all stripes value the great outdoors: Congress needs to keep following their lead.