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Outdoors Act Helps Keep W.Va. Wild, Wonderful

As West Virginians, we areblessed to live in one of the most naturally beautiful states in the nation. From our scenic rivers to our majestic mountains to our unspoiled wilderness areas, there truly is something for everyone in “wild and wonderful”West Virginia.

With the recent signing into law of the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act, our region and our state are even better poised to take advantage of West Virginia’s natural beauty by expanding outdoor recreation opportunities while preserving some of the most incredible wilderness areas in the eastern United States. This law, sponsored by Senator Manchin and supported by Senator Capito, will pay dividends for West Virginia and the nation for generations to come.

One of the most important aspects of the Great American Outdoors Act is that it fully and permanently funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The LWCF is a 55-year-old program established by Congress to protect land, water, and recreation areas to ensure conservation and recreation benefits for all Americans. It accomplishes this at no cost to taxpayers by utilizing royalties generated by offshore oil and gas drilling that are reinvested in projects in all 50 states. That was the foundational promise of LWCF — to offset the depletion of one public resource by conserving another.

While LWCF may not be a household name, it has touched most of us and our communities in some way. Nationally, LWCF funding has helped develop and support the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Great Smoky Mountain National Parks, just to name a few. Over the years, West Virginia has received more than a quarter of a billion dollars to fund more than 500 projects in 54 counties, including Dolly Sods, Blackwater Canyon, and the New River Gorge. Here in Wheeling, millions of LWCF dollars have been spent at Oglebay Park, the Wheeling Waterfront Development, Storch Farm,and City of Wheeling parks, playgrounds and pools.

Passage of the GreatAmerican Outdoors Act is truly a moment for celebration. The act makes sense for our nation, our state, and our region for so many reasons. First, in an era of hyper-partisanship, this very significant legislation enjoyed broad bipartisan support in Congress before being signed into law by President Trump.

Second, it fulfills a promise made 55 years ago to provide a regular funding source to conservation and outdoor recreation projects in all 50 states.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, it contains funding for shovel-ready projects that will help create jobs and get the economy moving again as we strive to recover from COVID-19.

This bill, which passed the Senate and the House by overwhelming majorities, contains $20 billion to fund maintenance-backlog projects in our national parks, wilderness areas, the Bureau of Indian Education, and other public lands. These are projects that, in many cases, have been too long delayed and are vitally important to our outdoor recreation economy. Moreover, these projects would serve as a $20 billion infusion in the economy in the form of desperately needed jobs for workers who have been hard hit by the shutdown of our economy because of COVID-19.

As we continue to recover from the effects of this pandemic, parks, wilderness areas, trails, and outdoor recreation facilities will take on increased importance as areas where we can more safely gather to enjoy each other and the amazing natural beauty of our state. The Great American Outdoors Act could not have come at a better time. Now, it is time for West Virginia to hit the ground running and put this incredible new resource to work.

Thanks to the leadership of Senator Manchin and the support of Senator Capito, the Great American Outdoors Act will ensure that we keep West Virginia “wild and wonderful” for at least another 50 years.

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