What’s Going on With the Great American Outdoors Act?

Last August, outdoor recreationists celebrated the passage of the United States’ Great American Outdoors Act. The Act, which provides significant funding to tackle the large backlog of maintenance projects on our cherished and well-loved public lands, was praised by every corner of the outdoor world, from RVers to hunters to conservationists.

What exactly did the Great American Outdoors Act promise, and what has happened in the year since its passing? Let’s find out.

What Is the Great American Outdoors Act?

The Great American Outdoors Act legislation has two main impacts on parks and conservation in the U.S. It established the National Park and Public Lands Legacy Restoration Fund which will divert $1.9 billion annually from the revenues of energy development for the next 5 years to tackle a backlog of deferred maintenance projects on federal lands. 

A full $6.5 billion is earmarked for the 423 units managed by the National Park Service, which, as of January 2021, has more than $11.9 billion worth of deferred maintenance needed on “roads, buildings, utility systems, and other structures and facilities.” Other federal lands that are eligible for the funding include national forests, national grasslands, and wildlife refuges.

The legislation also permanently funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million per year, using royalties from offshore oil and natural gas. The fund is a federal program that “supports the protection of federal public lands and waters, including national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and recreation areas.” In addition to providing funding to the National Park Service, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife, and Bureau of Land Management, it also provides grants to state and local governments for land acquisition.

With bipartisan support, former President Trump signed the Great American Outdoors Act on August 4, 2020. It was celebrated as this generation’s biggest legislative “win” for conservation and outdoor recreation.

Construction crew paving concrete at staging area in Grand Canyon National Park.
Improvements to railway tour bus staging area near the Historic Grand Canyon Depot. – Photo by NPS / Michael Quinn

What’s Happening Now?

Though the Great American Outdoors Act faded from the news shortly after its passing, the legislation has been anything but idle. Over the last year, money has been granted to parks and other federal lands to address the maintenance backlog.

According to the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (ORR), there’s been significant progress in implementing the legislation. In a press release, the ORR reports that the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior have a queue of more than 1,000 infrastructure projects that impact outdoor recreationalists, including improvements to “campgrounds, roads, bridges, visitor centers, parking lots, trails, water and electrical systems, and more.” It also shared that as of August 2021, $285 million worth of projects were underway, including more than 150 campground-related projects. 

Here are just a few of the projects that the Great American Outdoors Act has funded to date:

Cracked asphalt road in a Utah campground.
Devils Canyon Campground | Blanding, UT – Photo by: DonCoyote

Devils Canyon Campground, Manti-La Sal National Forest

In June 2021, the Manti-La Sal National Forest in Utah completed a road resurfacing project at the five-star rated Devils Canyon Campground. “The Great American Outdoors Act is providing the national forest with funding and the ability to complete this chip and seal project, providing the forest and visitors with a long-term solution for an ongoing issue,” said acting forest supervisor Darren Olsen in a statement. The Manti-La Sal National Forest anticipates additional funding in 2022 for more projects at the campground, including paving the interpretive trail and replacing signage.

Entrance station with cars pulled up in a national park campground.
Tuolumne Meadows Campground | Yosemite National Park, CA

Tuolumne Meadows Campground, Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park’s five-star rated Tuolumne Meadows Campground will also see a revitalization thanks to the Great American Outdoors Act. The campground, which hosts more than 140,000 visitors annually, received $26.2 million to improve campground roads, replace aged water and sewage systems, enhance amenities, and make accessibility improvements.

Snow being plowed off Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Plowing operations below the Rim Rock area near Logan Pass on Going-to-the-Sun Road – Photo by Glacier National Park

Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park

The Going-to-the-Sun Road at Glacier National Park is a stunning scenic drive that enchants the park’s more than 3 million visitors each year. The road is an engineering marvel, passing over the Continental Divide and through gorgeous, glacier-filled valleys. The Great American Outdoors Act funding is helping to reconstruct 9.3 miles of the road to widen curves and address limited sight distance for drivers.