June 20, 2020

Investing in our outdoor treasures | The Martinsburg Journal

West Virginia boasts world-class rivers, seemingly never-ending forests, and a rich history that ties the outdoors to the core of our state’s identity. Ask most West Virginians and they’ll tell you how they grew up hunting, hiking, fishing, and exploring our wild and wonderful backyard. It’s who we are and what we love to do. That’s why I’m proud to lead the Great American Outdoors Act which reinvests in our outdoor treasures.

But our recreation areas are not just beautiful, they also support our state and local economies through tourism and job growth. In 2019 alone, our National Parks in West Virginia, including the Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, were enjoyed by 1.65 million visitors, supporting 1,080 jobs and injecting $88.4 million into the West Virginia economy. Overall, West Virginia’s outdoor recreation generates $1.5 billion in consumer spending and provides 22,202 jobs which generate $689 million in wages and salaries, and produce $660 million in state and local tax revenue annually. This tax revenue and economic input is critical to funding our schools, assisting small businesses, and completing essential infrastructure projects that improve our great state.

The National Parks, National Forests, and National Wildlife Refuges across America have approximately $21.2 billion in deferred maintenance backlog, with West Virginia facilities needing an estimated $118.7 million in deferred maintenance infrastructure repairs. Harpers Ferry alone needs more than $18.4 million to address their deferred maintenance needs. This is not an issue unique to West Virginia. Across America, the stewards of our public lands struggle to manage their upkeep and care for their facilities and systems without sufficient funding.

Many of our most enjoyed outdoor spaces were made possible through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Over the past five decades, West Virginia has received approximately $250.1 million in LWCF funding. To date, 54 of the 55 counties in West Virginia have benefitted from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. LWCF is responsible for projects at Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Gauley River National Recreation Area, New River Gorge National River, Monongahela National Forest, and Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area to name a few. It’s also helped in towns like Marlinton, where Mayor Sam Felton was able to turn a vacant lot into the Discovery Junction, a multi-purpose community gathering space, with the help of an $86,400 LWCF grant.

In the Mountain State, hunting is also a time honored tradition. I’ve been a hunter my entire life, and look forward to opening day each and every year. I also enjoy fishing; it’s a part of my life that I’ve enjoyed with my kids, and now my son takes his children. The Great American Outdoors Act will increase access to federal lands for hunting and fishing all across the country. With federal lands often surrounded by private lands, they can be nearly inaccessible, which is frustrating for many outdoorsmen. LWCF funds will help increase access by helping provide new access to inaccessible inholdings. This will open up these lands for everyone to enjoy.

Despite the incredible outdoor opportunities the LWCF has made possible, it has only been fully funded twice since its inception in 1965. Without permanent funding for the LWCF and legislation to address the NPS deferred maintenance backlog, West Virginia’s wild and wonderful lands are in danger of losing funding and support.

This week, the Great American Outdoors Act was passed by the Senate by a strong bipartisan vote of 73-25. When I introduced the Great American Outdoors Act in March, President Trump promised to sign the legislation into law, ensuring that when Congress passed the bill, he would help secure funding for our recreational areas across our nation for decades to come.

West Virginians deserve well maintained recreation areas that support our economy, grow our tourism industry, and showcase how truly beautiful our state is. With the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, West Virginia’s recreation areas will begin to take on a new life, once again illustrating that when you invest in infrastructure and conservation, our local communities thrive. I am proud to lead the Great American Outdoors Act and the steps it takes to protect our wild and wonderful playgrounds for future generations.