The National Park System has long been considered a national treasure. Stretching from coast to coast, it encompasses all manner of natural and historic gems, from the Yellowstone and Acadia national parks to the Appalachian Trail and the Salem Maritime National Park.
For too long, however, that adulation has amounted to little more than lip service, as roads, bridges and campgrounds and other infrastructure have been allowed to fall into disrepair. The South Rim of the Grand Canyon, for example, is visited by millions of tourists a year looking to experience one of the planet’s most breathtaking vistas. While those visitors can take in the view, they often can’t get water because the park’s pumps break down about once a month. At Atlanta’s famed Ebenezer Baptist Church, part of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, unrepaired water leaks have left crumbled plaster and stained ceilings. The failing sewage system at the Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky has for years put visitors at risk of E. coli.
There is, however, good news. Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed into law the Great American Outdoors Act, which will pump roughly $9.5 billion toward repairs and upgrades across the park system, which counts 419 sites and roughly 85 million acres in all 50 states. The investment, which will be spread out over several years, will go a long toward addressing the national parks’ $12 billion maintenance backlog.
Make no mistake, this is a remarkable achievement in this historically divided time. Conservationists have tried for decades without success to convince Democratic and Republican administrations that the investment was necessary, and given the partisan divide in Congress, it would have been no surprise if the trend continued. Instead, the measure passed by wide margins in both the House and Senate, and was signed into law earlier this week by President Trump.
“I know I may be biased, but I think this is the most impactful legislation for parks and public lands in the United States in more than half a century,” Marcia Argust, director of the Restore America’s Parks program at The Pew Charitable Trusts, told National Geographic. “It’s a game-changer.”
Widespread cooperation is rare in Washington these days, and should be celebrated when it occurs. The real winners here are the American people.