U.S. Senator Gardner Celebrates Historic Passage of the Great American Outdoors Act
Takes to the Senate floor to discuss the landmark bill’s importance to conservation and COVID-19 economic recovery
Washington, D.C. – On July 23rd, U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) spoke on the floor of the U.S. Senate celebrating the U.S. House of Representative’s historic 310-107 passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, the landmark conservation bill he introduced with U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV). The Great American Outdoors Act fully funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at a level of $900 million every year, addresses the approximately $20 billion maintenance backlog on federal lands including projects at National Parks, and is on the way to the President’s desk to be signed into law after the Senate passed it 73-25 in June.
“In the weeks since Senate passage, I’ve traveled all over the great state of Colorado visiting with land management officials and professionals, stakeholders, and constituents to discuss what the Great American Outdoors Act will really mean on the ground on a personal, local level for Colorado and Colorado’s public lands,” said Senator Gardner. “This is a bill that reminds us that our communities and our shared public outdoor spaces are worth investing in. It’s a bill that reminds people that we have hope for America. It’s a bill that reminds people that your public lands are waiting for you, and Congress was able to come together during these trying times in a bipartisan fashion so strong, so great, that you’ll be able to enjoy the great American outdoors the way they were meant to be enjoyed.”
Remarks as delivered:
Mr. President, six weeks ago I stood here as the Senate prepared to begin deliberating historic conservation legislation, the Great American Outdoors Act.
I introduced this legislation with Senator Manchin of West Virginia, along with so many other bipartisan champions for the outdoors and our public lands: Senator Daines, Senator Portman, Senator Warner, Alexander, King, Senator Cantwell, Burr, Heinrich. Just a few of the champions who helped shepherd this historic legislation through this chamber.
I remarked on that day that is it not often that the Senate has a chance to make history, but indeed history we made. The Senate came together in an overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion and passed the Great American Outdoors Act 73-25.
And today, the U.S. House of Representatives, just moments ago, joined us in making history by passing the Great American Outdoors Act with a vote of 310-107. Today this legislation is headed to the President of the United States’ desk for his signature.
The President has already supported the bill noting that this historic bill, the nature of this historic bill, and the huge conservation victory that it is.
In the weeks since Senate passage, I’ve traveled all over the great state of Colorado visiting with land management officials and professionals, stakeholders, and constituents to discuss what the Great American Outdoors Act will really mean on the ground on a personal, local level for Colorado and Colorado’s public lands. I’d like to share some of those stories with you today.
So here we have a picture of an amphitheater that is outside of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. If you go a little further to the right, you would actually be in the canyon. This is an Amphitheater that was built basically in the 1960s. The park itself is now about 20 years old. It had over 430,000 people visiting it last year. It’s got a deferred maintenance backlog of $7.7 million and this South Rim Amphitheater facility is part of that backlog.
It’s currently being used, but it needs significant upgrades. If you actually sat on one of those benches, you probably wouldn’t be able to sit anywhere else for quite a long time because of the splinters and the gouges that you would receive from the shards of wood that are on those benches.
There’s electrical outlets that are popping up and an old projection system. This is supposed to be used for education and education opportunities. With the right improvements you will be able to restore this to have more people access it, to restore its accessibility, and to get it back to its original purpose.
New park benches and electrical work are among just a bit of this amphitheater’s needs, a $200,000 deferred maintenance project alone. This site for education, for experiential learning. Within the rest of the park, there are millions more in maintenance projects like this one that need to be performed and carried out.
Our lands are busy. People are loving them. This is one example, and it’s one example of a project that will be completed thanks to the Great American Outdoors Act.
It’s not just National Parks, though, that have maintenance needs. Secretary Sonny Perdue, our Secretary of Agriculture, joined me in Colorado in mid-June and we toured the Mizpah Campground in the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests that has been closed for a decade. This is a beautiful river and the campground is back here. There’s only one problem – there’s no bridge. This river wiped out the culvert and the bridge a decade ago. This is a campground without access because ten years ago, a decade ago, a flood came through, high water came through, wiped out the access. You can’t even use this public facility because of a decade-long maintenance backlog at this facility alone.
The Great American Outdoors Act will provide line-of-sight funding for projects like these, which will no longer will have to compete for a small pool of funding with every other National Forest in the country.
When I talked to these professionals, when I talked to the Forest Rangers and the Park Superintendents, they talked about how they were able to accomplish structures in their park, how they were able to build campgrounds in their park, how they were able to keep up with restroom facilities, but they had no line-of-sight funding on additional help down the road meaning that as the facilities age, they may just have to be closed. Or in this case, as access gets wiped out, you’ll just never regain that access.
And what a loss to the American people that is. But what a benefit to the American people the Great American Outdoors Act will become.
And it’s not just National Parks, or National Forests, or Bureau of Land Management that will benefit from the Great American Outdoors Act.
This is a picture of Runyon Fields in the Runyon Sports Complex in Pueblo, Colorado. This area has a number of ballparks from little leagues to adult leagues. In fact, they just had their first pitch of the season last week, a day that I was actually at Runyon Sports Complex in Pueblo, Colorado to kick off a tournament to celebrate the beginning of a season much delayed thanks to COVID-19.
This area saw people like Pee Wee Reese play baseball, Babe Ruth visited this same area to play baseball. Now Coloradans of every generation are able to come to Runyon Sports Complex and to enjoy it. It’s become a regional draw to help benefit economically the city, to teach kids about sports and teamwork. That’s what this means.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund yes, helps forests and parks, but 40 percent of it, 40 percent of the Land and Water Conservation Fund’s funding is dedicated to projects at the state and local level. If you grew up on the Front Range of Colorado and played baseball, the odds are good that you spent some time on the field at Runyon or any other number of places that have been funded by a Land and Water Conservation Fund project. Runyon has received over $100,000 in LWCF funding over the years, and the complex continues to be a vital part of the community today.
LWCF is not just about our public lands, it’s about your local ballpark. It’s about your local swimming pool. It’s about playground facilities and urban parks that otherwise wouldn’t give minority communities access to recreation. That’s what it’s about.
Just up the road from Runyon Field in El Paso County, Colorado and the communities within them, they benefited greatly from LWCF. We visited a project in El Paso County that received hundreds of thousands of dollars, a county that’s received over $5 million in funding over the years, providing benefits for everything from building parks to tennis courts and trails.
The state has received over $2 million in funding to improve the Cheyenne Mountain State Park facilities within El Paso County, Colorado. Local, regional, and state outdoor recreation projects will only further benefit when the Great American Outdoors Act is signed into law.
With the Great American Outdoors Act, Congress is finally, finally fulfilling its commitment to fully and permanently fund the LWCF, which will benefit every state in the nation.
The passage of this historic legislation could not come at a more critical time. Our economy has suffered during the coronavirus pandemic, and stay-at-home orders have kept Americans cooped up indoors for the last several months.
Millions of people and families are facing uncertain futures. Will school return in the fall? Will my business survive this challenging time? Will I receive my next paycheck?
When the first waves of the virus hit and shutdown orders went into place, some of Colorado’s mountain towns and rural areas were the hardest and first hit. Community restaurants closed, hotels emptied, and their stores’ doors were closed to visitors. These are challenging times no doubt, but one glimmer of hope will always be our public lands and the great outdoors.
This nation does not have Republican or Democrat public lands. This is not a partisan issue. Preserving and taking care of our public lands provides benefit to the entire country and will provide benefit for generations to come.
But not only is this legislation about preserving and protecting our lands, it’s also about job creation and economic recovery – more hope for the people of this country.
Passing the Great American Outdoors Act will create over 100,000 jobs by addressing the park maintenance backlog alone. In my home state of Colorado, it will create thousands of jobs across the state as the mission of the Great American Outdoors Act is fulfilled.
There will be more jobs created as the work begins to address maintenance projects on other federal lands, the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, our National Wildlife Refuges, and the Bureau of Indian Education schools all have needs that are addressed by this legislation, and these are important opportunities to create jobs when the projects are finally and fully funded.
I mentioned this statistic quite a bit during consideration of the Great American Outdoors Act here in the Senate. For every $1 million we spend on the Land and Water Conservation Fund, it supports between 16 and 30 jobs. That’s a figure above and beyond the 100,000 jobs that will be created by the parks provisions of the legislation alone.
This is a bill that will put people to work building playgrounds, fixing trails, cleaning up ballparks, protecting our iconic landscapes for generations to come.
This is a bill that reminds us that our communities and our shared public outdoor spaces are worth investing in. It’s a bill that reminds people that we have hope for America. It’s a bill that reminds people that your public lands are waiting for you, and Congress was able to come together during these trying times in a bipartisan fashion so strong, so great, that you’ll be able to enjoy the great American outdoors the way they were meant to be enjoyed.
I’m pleased that the House of Representatives affirmed all of this by passing the Great American Outdoors Act today with such a strong bipartisan vote. I thank my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in both chambers for their hard work and dedication to passing this historic conservation legislation.
I look forward to the President signing this bill in the days ahead, I look forward to getting out into the great outdoors, and I look forward to these lands, as they continue to inspire the hopes and dreams of kids and adults alike for generations to come.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
Cory Gardner is a member of the U.S. Senate serving Colorado. He sits on the Energy & Natural Resources Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee, the Commerce, Science, & Transportation Committee, and is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy