More than 50 projects in Colorado are set to benefit from the newly established National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund, created under the Great American Outdoors Act and championed by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado.
Bennet announced this week that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will invest $285 million to help the U.S. Forest Service address critical deferred maintenance and improve transportation and recreation infrastructure on national forests and grasslands.
The Great American Outdoors Act was signed into law last year to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund and reduce the public lands maintenance backlog.
The Forest Service currently administers more than 370,000 miles of roads, 13,800 bridges, 159,000 miles of trails, 1,700 dams and reservoirs, 1,500 communications sites, 32,000 recreation sites, and 40,000 facilities of other types. The maintenance backlog on this infrastructure is estimated at $5.9 billion.
“From modernizing campgrounds to improving roads and enhancing trails, this investment will provide a much-needed boost to Colorado’s outdoor economy,” Bennet said. “This initial funding from the Great American Outdoors Act will be put to good use in Colorado, and I’m grateful Secretary Vilsack and USDA are committed to maintaining America’s public land infrastructure well into the future.”
“Our forests and grasslands are one of our nation’s greatest treasures and one of the most effective natural carbon captures that exist to help combat the effects of climate change,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.
“Millions of people each year enjoy forests and grasslands,” he said, “and these investments will promote public-private partnerships, tourism, and recreation, protect public lands, and ensure our national forests are accessible to all. These investments will also serve as a catalyst for rural economic development and employment opportunities.”
The investment will allow the Forest Service to roll out more than 500 infrastructure improvement projects essential to the continued use of national forests and grasslands. Projects in 2021 will improve recreation facilities, visitor centers, dams, and trails. Other projects aim to increase public access by restoring and repairing roads, trails, bridges, tunnels, and parking areas.
Among the list of projects for the fiscal year, 2021 are water treatment changes at Turquoise Lake to address the potential for groundwater contamination from direct surface water recharge.
In addition to leading efforts on the Great American Outdoors Act, Bennet has advocated for robust funding for federal land management agencies. In 2018 and 2019, Bennet co-sponsored the Restore Our Parks Act to address the maintenance backlog at the National Park Service. In 2017, Bennet sent a letter to former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke that included proposals to address the national park maintenance backlog in Colorado.
The Great American Outdoors Act authorizes funding under the Legacy Restoration Fund annually through the fiscal year 2025.