W ho doesn’t love our national parks?
A national survey done by Republican and Democratic pollsters a few years ago revealed that 87 percent of U.S. voters believe that parks, forests, monuments and wildlife areas play an essential role in the quality of life in their states.
A Pew Charitable Trusts poll in November showed that 76 percent of Americans favor an act that would pump much-needed money into maintenance of national parks. And now, the social isolation spawned by COVID-19 makes a trip to Skyline Drive or a walk around a Civil War battlefield more enticing than in normal times.
Yet the parks, wildlife areas and other outdoor treasures continue to suffer from neglect. There is an estimated $12 billion backlog on maintenance projects in the national parks. The Land and Water Conservation Fund, which helps states and localities preserve public land, has been fully funded just twice in the last 30 years.
Help seems to be on the way. Last Wednesday, the U.S. Senate approved the Great American Outdoors Act on a 73–25 vote. It promises to take care of about half of that $12 billion in maintenance and other needs.
Virginia Sen. Mark Warner was one of the bill’s backers. He’s been trying to get something like this through the Senate since 2017. At a time when Democrats and Republicans can’t agree on where the sun rises, both sides appear to be in agreement on this one.
President Donald Trump and environmental groups seem to be on—Stop the presses!—the same page, too.
The Outdoors Act now goes to the House, where it is expected to pass. It would be the most significant conservation legislation in almost 50 years.
Backers claim it would support 100,000 direct and indirect jobs over the next five years. The boost to Virginia tourism is estimated at 10,000 jobs.
All such estimates should be taken with a shaker of salt, but it seems obvious that properly maintaining these sites will be beneficial, especially in Virginia. Our state has more than its share of historical and scenic treasures, including Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive, the Blue Ridge Parkway and a host of Civil War sites in and around Fredericksburg.
Thus, the commonwealth should prosper more than most, both financially and aesthetically, from sprucing up those treasures.
The U.S. Senate was supposed to vote on the Great American Outdoors Act back in March, but then COVID-19 pushed everything else to the back burner. If the legislation gets through the House, it is then likely to be signed into law by President Trump, who has indicated his approval.
In what the TV talking heads endlessly call “these trying times,” a little good news on the political cooperation front is much welcomed.