The U.S. Senate took significant action to address campground modernization and deferred maintenance on public lands with the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) by a vote of 73-25 on Wednesday.
The bill, which now heads to the House of Representatives for approval, will provide the largest investment in our iconic public lands in over a century. GAOA will invest up to $9.5 billion of nontaxpayer funds to address the infrastructure within the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and other federal agencies. The bill will also fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and provide $900 million per year in investment in the public lands, parks, and trails that are the backbone of the outdoor recreation economy.
“As national parks and forests across the country look to safely reopen, it’s encouraging to see the overwhelming support of Senators recognizing the need to direct significant funds toward critical deferred maintenance and campground modernization needs on our public lands and waters,” said Craig Kirby, RV Industry Association President. “We are grateful to the 73 Senators who voted today to pass the Great American Outdoors Act and address these issues through this landmark legislation that supports outdoor recreation and conservation in our most treasured lands for generations to come.”
The bipartisan legislation, which had overwhelming support from the Senate RV Caucus, will achieve the dual goals of protecting America’s special places and repairing deteriorating infrastructure. Funds provided in the GAOA will help improve outdoor recreation-related facilities that RVers rely on, like campgrounds, roads, bridges, parking lots, restrooms, visitor centers, trails, docks, and more –which have desperately needed updating or repairs for decades. It will help achieve this goal while preserving water quantity and quality, sustaining working landscapes and rural economies. It will increase access to outdoor recreation for all Americans no matter where they live and bolster the $778 billion outdoor recreation economy that supports 5.2 million jobs and accounts for 2.2% of the GDP.
“RVers across the country depend on our incredible state and federal lands for recreation, conservation, enjoyment, and overnight camping. Thanks to the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act by the Senate, we are one step closer to improving the experience of RVers by addressing deferred maintenance and campground modernization needs across federal lands and waters,” said Bob Martin, President and CEO of Thor Industries. “This legislation is critical not only to the RV industry and the significant number of new consumers looking to RVs as a way to travel this summer, but also to the wider outdoor recreation economy. We are grateful for the bipartisan support of this bill and ask that the House quickly follows suit by passing the bill.”
The LWCF has, for 50 years, been our nation’s most successful conservation program. LWCF funds can be a lifeline for communities that rely on recreation access to local, state, and national parks, wildlife habitats, and working forests. LWCF funds have had a direct impact on growing the outdoor recreation economy by increasing recreational access to public lands in every state and county in America. Just recently the impact of LWCF has been seen on local campgrounds with the announcement of a $200,000 LWCF grant to upgrade electrical hookups, fire pits, and restrooms at an RV campground in Georgia. Passage of the GAOA will fund similar grants to modernize campgrounds across the country.
“Today’s passage of the Great American Outdoors Act by the Senate is an important win for not only the RV industry but the greater $778 billion outdoor recreation economy. This legislation will ensure safe and enjoyable experiences for the millions of RVers across the country by addressing the deferred maintenance backlog on public lands and waters,” said Mike Happe, President and CEO of Winnebago Industries. “We are particularly grateful to Senators Joni Ernst, Chuck Grassley, and Todd Young for their dedication to the RV industry and the people of Iowa and Indiana. Enactment of this milestone legislation will mean increased recreation access for all Americans no matter where they live.”
A study from the National Park Service (NPS) estimates that addressing the backlog in our national parks alone would create or support over 100,000 infrastructure-related jobs, most of these in struggling rural communities—the communities that have been hit particularly hard in the wake of the pandemic. Additionally, the study shows GAOA’s impact on NPS sites alone would support $6.5 billion in labor income, $17.5 billion in economic output, and contribute $9.6 billion to the US GDP. As visitors return to our parks and public lands, funding created by the GAOA will ensure that these special places are safe, accessible, and ready to help generate tourist dollars in local communities and tax revenues for local, state, and federal agencies.
“As more Americans look to RVs as a way to still get out and see our nation’s majestic public lands while also adhering to social distancing, it is more important than ever for Congress to address the mounting deferred maintenance on these lands through the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act,” said Kevin McArt, General Manager of Forest River Inc. “We applaud the Senators who voted for the bill, particularly Senator Todd Young of Indiana who understands the importance of this legislation to create safe and enjoyable experiences for the 20 million RVers across the country.”
The bill now heads to the House of Representatives where a companion bill was introduced last week. The RV Industry Association’s federal affairs team and partners across the outdoor industry are already at work securing the support needed to pass the bill through the House and send it to President Trump for his signature—something he has already promised to do.