On Tuesday, August 4, President Trump signed The Great American Outdoors Act (H.R. 1957) into law from the East Room of the White House. The act received wide bipartisan support in Congress and has been called “the biggest land conservation legislation in a generation” by Linda Blimes, the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Senior Lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School.

The law establishes a new National Park and Public Lands Legacy Restoration Fund that will provide up to $9 billion over the next 5 years to be invested in maintenance that has been put off. 70 percent of those funds are to be used by the National Park Service, with the remainder distributed to the National Forest Service, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Education.

In describing why these funds were needed, the National Park Service shared the following on its website:

National parks host more than 325 million visitors every year, and the infrastructure cannot keep up without significant repairs. The network of roads, trails, restrooms, water treatment systems, and visitor facilities are aging, and many are exceeding the capacity they were designed to support. The National Parks and Public Lands Restoration Fund will provide funding for priority projects that address the maintenance backlog at NPS facilities, including campgrounds, picnic areas, roads, trails, and other critical infrastructure.

NPS also released the following video, entitled “Restoring Our National Parks. For an audio described version, click here.

Indeed, much of the infrastructure in America’s national parks has fallen into disrepair due to a lack of funding over many decades. The resources made available by the Great American Outdoors Act will allow significant investments to be made in restoring the nation’s national park treasures.

Monies must also be used to create access for disabled people through investments in accessible infrastructure. The act contains the following provision:

(k) Required consideration for accessibility

In expending amounts from the Fund, the Secretary and the Secretary of Agriculture shall incorporate measures to improve the accessibility of assets and accommodate visitors and employees with disabilities in accordance with applicable law.

This suggests that accessibility should be considered every step of the way and, while updating, restoring and repairing existing infrastructure, it should also be updated to include accessibility. In reality, this is already a requirement in the Americans with Disabilities Act, that new construction or renovations be accessible, but the act’s statement of accessibility as a priority is good news.

A list of project proposals are due to congress within 90 days and I certainly look forward to seeing where the money will be directed first.

What accessibility improvements would you like to see at America’s national parks? Is there something you’ve wanted to do, but couldn’t due to inaccessibility? Let me know in the comments below!

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