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Billions Dedicated To Public Lands As Great American Outdoors Act Becomes Law

National Parks, National Forests, state parks and other public spaces are set to get billions of dollars in funding under a new federal law. President Trump signed the  Great American Outdoors Act on Tuesday. Conservation groups in Arizona and beyond are celebrating the landmark legislation. 

The new law dedicates up to $9.5 billion over five years to the National Park Service to address maintenance needs. Arizona’s National Park sites need nearly $600 million in maintenance. Nationwide, the National Park Service is  nearly $12 billion behind in upkeep costs. 

“As we know, when lands get a lot of use the resources can be degraded and then they’re not there for the next person,” said Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter. 

The new law also dedicates $900 million annually to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which supports national forests, state and city parks, and other public spaces. The LWCF has existed since the 1960s. Its funding comes from federal energy revenues, not tax dollars, and Congress has regularly diverted that money for other uses. 

“For years there have been these loopholes where that money could be used somewhere else and that led to a historic underfunding of parks across the state and across the nation.” said Vianey Olivarria with the Latino-focused environmental group Chispa Arizona.

Olivarria is optimistic that fully funding the LWCF will mean expanding access to outdoor activities for underserved Arizonans. 

"If anybody walks on a trail, or plays softball games, or takes kids to the skate park, this is all funded by the LWCF," Olivarria said. "Now, thanks to the Great American Outdoors Act, we are sure that that's going to continue to be funded and protected." 

The law passed with  bipartisan support. Both Arizona senators and six of the state’s nine House members voted for it. Arizona Republicans Rep. Andy Biggs, Rep. Paul Gosar and Rep. Debbie Lesko voted against the bill.

Entry fees at National Parks, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sites  will be waived Wednesday in celebration of the new law.

Katherine Davis-Young is a senior field correspondent reporting on a variety of issues, including public health and climate change.