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July 28, 2020

Bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act will benefit C&O Canal and state parks

Credit: Cumberland Times-News, Brandon Glass

The C&O Canal National Historical Park and several Western Maryland state parks will benefit from the Great American Outdoors Act, which recently passed both houses of Congress and is awaiting action by President Donald Trump.

The legislation will provide $900 million per year to programs funded by the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The act passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday and the U.S. Senate last month.

For the region, that means money headed toward the upkeep of the C&O Canal.

“What we’ve seen is government acting short-term and, if you don’t put your money into keeping your maintenance up, everything falls apart,” said U.S. Rep. David Trone, who toured the canal’s aqueduct project last July. “We’ve got a lot of deferred maintenance at our parks in Western Maryland, but when you literally more than double the budget, guarantee it to be permanent, I think we’re going to make headway on helping, like at the C&O Canal with the towpath, where people go to bike, jog, walk. Normally, they’re doing eight to 10 miles a year. Now, maybe they can do 20 miles a year, make a lot of headway.”

In Garrett County, Deep Creek Lake State Park, Herrington Manor State Park, New Germany State Park and Swallow Falls State Park, and in Allegany County Dan’s Mountain State Park are some of the parks set to be beneficiaries of funds from the legislation.

“Western Maryland is going to be a big winner in this legislation,” Trone said. “The key is it’s permanent funding. Of course it’s bipartisan, which is great. It’s a perfect example of long term thinking. It’s the biggest outdoors legislation in the last three decades, there’s been nothing like this ever in my adult life. It is a huge investment in the economy of Western Maryland.”

The Land and Water Conservation Fund, created in 1964 and used to increase outdoor recreation opportunity and access to places for fishing, hunting and shooting, operated in 2018 with $425 million and in 2019 with $435 million in funding. With double the amount of funding, the conservation act portion of the bill, according to a study conducted by Boston University, would support an additional 15,000 to 28,000 jobs.

“This package provides full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and will significantly reduce the approximately $20 billion deferred maintenance backlog on our country’s public lands,” said U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who is on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. 

Included in the act is $9.5 billion in funding over five years for deferred maintenance on projects like national parks, national forests and state parks. The funding breakdown on deferred maintenance is 70% to national parks, 15% to national forests and 5% each to National Wildlife Refuges, Bureau of Land Management lands and Indian schools. Investments in such projects are expected to yield over 110,000 infrastructure related jobs, officials said.