In a year full of unexpected challenges and extreme partisanship, I am particularly grateful for a cause for celebration. The recent Great American Outdoors Act has provided just such an opportunity. With an eye on the future, both houses of Congress have passed legislation recognizing the importance of preserving and protecting our irreplaceable natural and cultural resources for the enjoyment of future generations.
This landmark piece of legislation was a victory for bipartisanship. The act not only addresses the huge backlog of deferred maintenance that has been crippling our national parks and public lands, it will permanently and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund. LWCF is our nation’s most important conservation program to protect, expand, and increase access to national parks and other public lands, and to create new community parks and outdoor greenspaces at no cost to U.S. taxpayers.
I am particularly grateful for Rep. Jared Golden’s leadership and support as an original co-sponsor of the Great American Outdoors Act. The congressman has been a great supporter of our national parks, and I applaud his leadership in moving the act across the finish line.
I had the privilege of serving in the National Park Service for nearly 40 years at parks across the country, including 12 years as superintendent of Acadia National Park. Based upon my many years of experience with the National Park Service, I know what a difference this new funding will make for parks all across America.
I also know that Golden’s leadership will continue as our national parks begin to receive funding from the Great American Outdoors Act. And one of the places that stands to benefit from LWCF funds is Acadia. The park welcomes more than 3 million visitors every year and protects the stunning natural beauty of the highest rocky headlands along the Atlantic coastline of the United States. However, there is private land within the park boundary that is unprotected and at risk of development.
Land is the very essence of every national park since it is the land that contains the natural and cultural resources that parks are established to preserve. LWCF funds will help the park acquire these tracts of private land and thereby “fill in the holes” within the park boundary. Finishing the purchase of these undeveloped parcels will protect important wildlife habitat and prevent incompatible private-land uses from occurring inside the park. It will also ensure that visitors can continue to enjoy Acadia’s unspoiled natural areas and pristine views from scenic overlooks, trails, and roadways, and offer more opportunities to see wildlife.
The Great American Outdoors Act was an extraordinary accomplishment and I hope that our government, especially the leadership in the Department of the Interior, will move quickly and efficiently to fund LWCF land acquisition projects and address the backlog of maintenance needs throughout the National Park System, including those at Acadia. Transparency and fairness should be an essential part of this process.
A hearty thank you to Golden and his colleagues for their dedication to protecting our parks and public lands. Let’s keep it up.
Sheridan Steele is a retired superintendent of Acadia National Park and St. Croix Island International Historic Site. He currently splits his time between Maine and Colorado.