If you are tired of bad news out of Washington, hold on: here’s a bright spot. And you can thank Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders for helping to make it happen.
The Senate has passed the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) to fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and address long overdue maintenance backlogs on our public lands and waters. The bill now heads to the U.S. House of Representatives for passage before becoming law.
Since its passage in 1965, the LWCF has provided over $140 million for Vermont parks, athletic facilities, recreational areas, and other public projects, conserving more than 275,000 acres. Passage of this bill will bring an additional $7.6 million to Vermont next year alone, and will double Vermont’s average annual LWCF funding going forward.
In a joint statement, Vermont Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders said: “While we must see the Senate immediately address our country’s unprecedented economic and public health crisis and pass emergency relief legislation, passage of the Great American Outdoors Act would deliver tremendous value to current and future generations of Vermonters. During this pandemic, safe recreation and outdoor exercise are more essential than ever. Vermonters would benefit from this legislation’s investments in well-maintained forests, hiking trails and public lands. It would allow Vermont to create conservation jobs, greatly expand opportunities for hiking and recreation in our beautiful state, benefit our local economy through outdoor tourism, and help us combat climate change. As original cosponsors of this bill, we look forward to seeing it quickly enacted into law.”
Sanders is a senior member of the Senate Natural Resources Committee that shepherded the GAOA through the Senate. And, as then-Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee in the 1990 Farm Bill, Leahy created the Forest Legacy Program (FLP), which is funded through the LWCF. The FLP has delivered more than $39 million in federal investments to help private landowners conserve working forest lands, support timber sector jobs, and boost the forest products economy.
Over the past three years in Vermont, the LWCF funded a new Burlington waterfront city park, the Potato Hill Park Playground at Lincoln Community School, and the purchase and improvement of community recreation fields at the Mad River Park in Waitsfield.