Senate passes Warner bill to tackle $1.1B maintenance backlog at Virginia national parks
The U.S. Senate passed the Great American Outdoors Act, a bill championed by Sen. Mark Warner that would address the $12 billion maintenance backlog at National Park Service sites across the country and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
The bipartisan legislation includes Sen. Warner’s Restore Our Parks Act, which would help tackle the $1.1 billion in deferred maintenance at Virginia’s national parks and create up to 10,340 jobs in the Commonwealth alone.
The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for approval.
“Over the past few years, I’ve been sounding the alarm on the mounting costs associated with repairing and maintaining our national park sites across the Commonwealth. Frankly, the National Park Service hasn’t had the federal resources it needs to preserve our natural treasures in Virginia and across the country. Failing to act now would have put these historical treasures at risk, and would have taken a devastating toll on small towns and communities whose economies depend on Virginia’s outdoor tourism industry,” said Sen. Warner. “Last year, Virginia’s national parks helped to support and create 17,300 jobs – an increase of 1,300 from 2018. And once this bill is signed into law, more than 10,000 jobs could be created in Virginia just by the work needed to restore and maintain Park Service sites. I’m proud that the Senate finally passed this commonsense bipartisan solution, and now it’s up to the House to ensure we protect and preserve these irreplaceable resources for years to come.”
Today’s Senate passage comes more than three years after Sen. Warner first led the effort to provide relief to national parks in Virginia, where the increasing maintenance backlog surpasses that of every state except for California and the District of Columbia.
Earlier this month, the National Park Service released a report that estimated that an average of 40,300 direct jobs and 100,100 direct and indirect jobs would be supported nationally by the Restore Our Parks Act if passed as part of the Great American Outdoors Act.
In Virginia, it is estimated that 10,340 jobs would be created or supported as a result of Sen. Warner’s push to address the national parks backlog.
Last week, a new NPS study highlighted the financial impact national parks sites have on Virginia’s economy. Last year, 22.8 million individuals from around the world visited national parks in Virginia, spending $1.2 billion. Additionally, national parks in Virginia helped support 17,300 jobs and contributed over $1.7 billion to the Commonwealth’s economy.
Because of the economic impact national parks have on communities across the country, more than 800 organizations have pledged their support for getting the Great American Outdoors Act swiftly passed and signed into law.
Sen. Warner’s effort to address the maintenance backlog began in March 2017, when he worked with Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) to introduce the National Park Legacy Act, which would have eliminated the NPS maintenance backlog by creating a thirty-year designated fund to take care of maintenance needs at visitor centers, rest stops, trails and campgrounds, as well as transportation infrastructure operated by NPS such as the George Washington Memorial Parkway and Arlington Memorial Bridge.
That same year, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced its own proposal, drawing heavily on the initial proposal from Sens. Warner and Portman. However, the Administration proposal – which was introduced in the Senate as the National Park Restoration Act by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Angus King (I-ME) – would not have established a dedicated funding stream for NPS maintenance.
In March 2018, after extensive negotiations among Sens. Warner, Portman, Alexander, and King, the bipartisan group introduced the Restore Our Parks Act, a bipartisan consensus proposal endorsed by the Trump Administration, to invest in overdue maintenance needs at NPS sites. The bill would reduce the maintenance backlog by establishing the “National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund” and allocating existing revenues from onshore and offshore energy development.
This funding would come from 50 percent of all revenues that are not otherwise allocated and deposited into the General Treasury, not exceeding $1.3 billion each year for the next five years. In February 2019, Sen. Warner reintroduced the Restore Our Parks Act and, the bill was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in November.
In March 2020, following the President’s announcement that he would back the bipartisan Restore Our Parks Act as well as full and permanent funding for LWCF, Sen. Warner, along with Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Steve Daines (R-MT), Portman, King, Alexander, and Richard Burr (R-NC) introduced the Great American Outdoors Act, which would provide $9.5 billion over five years to the National Park Service, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Indian Education to address the deferred maintenance backlog at these agencies.
The legislation would also provide permanent, mandatory funding for the LWCF, which provides states and local communities with technical assistance, recognition, and funding to help preserve and protect public lands. Virginia has received approximately $368.5 million in LWCF funding over the past four decades to help protect dozens of national parks, wildlife refuges, forests, trails and more.
“Senate passage of the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) is a remarkable achievement in advancing historic bipartisan legislation for our national parks. The National Park Foundation is grateful for Senator Warner’s steadfast commitment to Virginia’s national parks and a bright future for all of our special places with his leadership on this bill. GAOA will ensure that national parks receive the funding required to address deferred maintenance needs, that parks remain accessible to all Americans, and continue to serve as economic engines for local communities in Virginia and across the country,” said Will Shafroth, President and CEO of the National Park Foundation.
“Senator Warner helped make history when the Senate passed the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act today, an effort that culminates his years of work to restore our national parks. If the House of Representatives follows through, this will be one of the most significant pieces of conservation and recreation legislation enacted in more than 50 years,” said Marcia Argust, Project Director of the restore America’s parks campaign at The Pew Charitable Trusts. “Investment in our parks and public lands will have a high rate of return for park resources, visitors, and local economies, especially in Virginia, where park tourism supports over 17,000 jobs annually.”
“Today, because of the leadership of Congressional park champions like Senator Warner, the momentum to fix our national parks and public lands is stronger than ever before,” said Theresa Pierno, President and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association. “On top of cuts to funding and staffing, our parks also face billions of dollars in needed repairs, from aging water systems at Grand Canyon to crumbling trails at Shenandoah. Senator Warner has spoken up in support of these treasured places and all they protect for years, and because of his inspiring work on this legislation, we are one step closer to preserving America’s legacy and providing much needed relief to local economies across the country.”
“Senate passage of the Great American Outdoors Act with overwhelming bipartisan support brings us one step closer to an historic achievement on behalf of historic and cultural resources and our public lands. This legislation is a bipartisan solution that would provide $9.5 billion in dedicated funding over five years for much needed repairs of the National Park Service and other federal agencies. Along with fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund, this bill would ensure preservation of some of our nation’s most iconic historic places. We thank Senator Warner, along with Senators Portman, Alexander, King, Manchin, Gardner, Daines, Cantwell and others for their leadership on this once-in-a-generation legislative accomplishment for our public lands,” said Tom Cassidy, Vice President for Government Relations and Policy at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
“The passage of the Great American Outdoors Act is an outstanding accomplishment for the Commonwealth of Virginia, providing critical funding for desperately needed repairs and maintenance at our treasured national park sites,” said Rita McClenny, President and CEO of Virginia Tourism Corporation. “Virginia is home to national icons including Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway, and offers some of the most beautiful places in the world for travelers to get outside, slow down, and connect with nature and each other. The funding from the Great American Outdoors Act will greatly benefit our natural wonders, from the shores of Coastal Virginia to the mountainous cliffs of Southwest Virginia. We owe a deep gratitude to Senator Warner for his leadership and for pushing forward such significant legislation, providing vital resources to preserve the beauty and abundance of our natural resources in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
“The Blue Ridge Parkway is more than just a scenic road and a connector to the region’s landscape. It is an economic driver for adjacent communities creating a $1.4 billion impact in economic benefits,” said Landon Howard, President of Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge. “Thanks to Senator Warner’s leadership to restore our national parks, Roanoke, one of the largest communities along the Blue Ridge Parkway, will benefit greatly from the restoration contributing to jobs and the economy in Virginia’s Blue Ridge.”
A full list of deferred maintenance needs at Virginia’s national parks can be found here.