Why the Great American Outdoors Act can unite our country
As the nation embarks on a period of reflection, dialogue and improvement, we must ensure that the outdoors is part of the solution to bring more equality to America.
The outdoors are playing a major role in supporting America through the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people are turning to outdoor spaces as the best venue for mental health breaks, recreation and meaningful activity that is safe and socially distanced.
With unrest and turmoil upon us again, sparked by the senseless killing of George Floyd, the outdoors has another opportunity to be a force for good and positive change.
Outdoor experiences, access and enjoyment should be the ultimate equalizer. Playing outside, recreating in the wild and enjoying nature should be colorblind, free of prejudice and a sanctuary for all to enjoy. As the nation embarks on a period of reflection, dialogue and improvement, we must ensure that the outdoors is part of the solution to bring more equality to America.
For once, Congress has a head start. There is a growing movement to pass comprehensive outdoor legislation that will strengthen our system of public lands and make them more accessible to more people. This landmark legislation will highlight how, despite the growing divide in our country, Republicans and Democrats are able to come together on solutions that support our health, our environment and access to the outdoors for everyone.
The Great American Outdoors Act is legislation that has formed through the good work of Congressman Rob Bishop and a bipartisan coalition of elected officials, coalitions and industry. This legislation would use energy revenues on public lands to help reduce the growing maintenance backlog, which is increasingly burdening land management agencies and visitors alike. The legislation also provides $900 million annually to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which will help develop more conservation and outdoor recreation opportunities on both the federal and state level. These victories are the product of bipartisan efforts coming together to advance a historic solution for our public lands.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund enhancements are timely. Full funding will unleash the state-side program at a time when it is desperately needed. The state-side program supports local recreation projects in urban centers and areas not located on or near public lands. This tool can close the gap on recreational access inequality and bring people together through outdoor experiences.
Policymakers are on the cusp of enacting this legislation and ushering in a new era of outdoor recreation opportunities. The Great American Outdoors Act would dramatically improve the quality and longevity of our public lands infrastructure, while also expanding a federal recreation program that can inject needed outdoor infrastructure investment to urban and other underserved locations. This will have the dual effect of bringing more people outdoors while also breaking down barriers and using the outdoors as a force for change and equality.
We are living in a time where our nation is divided. On tax, health care, foreign policy and just about every issue, it is seemingly more difficult (if not impossible) to bring policymakers or their constituents together around a common cause. The Great American Outdoors Act is different. It is bipartisan. It supports rural America. It supports urban America. And its consideration is coming at a time when American needs a victory.
Congress must continue the work and debate, pass and enact the Great American Outdoors Act without delay.
Fred Ferguson was raised in Utah and currently serves as vice president of public affairs for outdoor equipment maker Vista Outdoor.