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Biden’s America the Beautiful Plan will help ensure national parks are protected, accessible

The COVID-19 pandemic has very visibly demonstrated just how important parks are to Americans. With households across the country spending months in lockdown, a trip to the great outdoors provided much needed physical, emotional, and spiritual escape.

In order to ensure the health and safety of employees, volunteers, and residents of gateway communities, parks moved into varying levels of shutdown. But as more and more Americans receive their COVID-19 vaccinations, our national parks, like the rest of the country, are beginning to reopen.

We have seen numerous articles in the media that offer tips for visiting national parks this summer, or stories that raise the alarm about how fast entry tickets are selling out in some parks. On their website, the National Park Service warns visitors planning a trip to the Grand Canyon this summer to expect long lines and crowded conditions. 2021 promises to be a busy year for our national parks and I expect the NPS will welcome more than the 327 million visitors who traveled to national parks in 2019, prior to the Covid park shutdowns.

Considering all this, President Joe Biden’s ambitious America the Beautiful Plan – which sets a goal to not only protect 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030 but to increase access to outdoor recreation opportunities for all Americans – could not have come at a better time.

I served the National Park Service for 30 years and I have seen the impacts of climate change at parks across the country. From melting glaciers and dying trees, to rising tides and more intense wildfires, our national parks are on the front lines of climate change. At Saguaro National Park, near my home in Tucson, climate change has greatly impacted the establishment of new saguaros to replace older and dying ones. Irreplaceable resources are at risk and the president’s plan promises will help ensure that parks like Saguaro will see a future.

My time with the NPS has also given me a firsthand look at how much Americans value their national parks. All of us should have access to our parks and outdoor spaces. And one of the most obvious lessons learned from the pandemic is the value of close-to-home parks, trails, and open space not just for exercise but for the health of our communities. I’m thrilled to see that on the heels of the America the Beautiful Plan, the NPS has committed to the distribution of $150 million in funding to local communities through the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership Program. This program will help communities with the greatest needs to create new urban parks closer to home and breathe life into existing outdoor spaces so more people can get outdoors.

Our national parks and the NPS programs that support them are vital to the health of our country. National parks drive tourism, make communities a more desirable place to live, boost physical activity, and create jobs. They provide us with places to seek adventure or peace. We must ensure that our national parks are not only protected and preserved for future generations, but accessible to all Americans today. And President Biden’s America the Beautiful plan is an important step forward to achieving both goals.

Bill Wade retired as superintendent of Shenandoah National Park after a 32-year career with the National Park Service. He is a founding member of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks and lives in Tucson.