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America’s Outdoor Recreation Act lost in budget shuffle—a missed opportunity

In late 2021, U.S. Senators Manchin of West Virginia and Barrasso of Wyoming co-sponsored “America’s Outdoor Recreation Act.” The bill made it through the U.S. Senate committee structure. In late September 2022, Sen. Manchin reported it out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee with a recommendation for passage by the 117th Congress.

The measure aimed to substantially enhance and improve recreation sites on federal lands, including campgrounds, and provide resources and assistance to communities adjacent to national recreation sites. The plan included the construction of pads and electrical, water, and waste disposal facilities on specific federal land holdings. S.3266 was a bill that specifically addressed the shortcomings of camping accommodations on the 640 million acres of public lands. Then, though scheduled for a floor vote in the Senate, the impending mid-term elections caused the bill to become stalled in committee.

The U.S. senate meeting about the Americas Outdoor Recreation Act.
The United States Senate in session.

S.3266 was a genuine, rare bipartisan undertaking that the executive director of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, Jessica Turner, described as “a unifying force among members of both parties and chambers.” Yet, when federal budget appropriations turned deeply partisan in the late fall of last year, the Americas Outdoor Recreation Act fell victim to the Omnibus Spending Bill.

The Manchin–Barrasso bill contained funding provisions for constructing much-needed infrastructure improvements to recreational facilities on public lands administered by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. The prospective improvements included, among other things, the actual development of campground facilities, including water, electrical, and waste disposal, road improvements for better access, and financial and other assistance to the communities bordering the federal lands for the accommodation of recreational users.

The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) lauded the omnibus appropriations bill because it “… continues to fund the Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account (ORSA), which provides an annual study into the economic impact of outdoor recreation.” (Emphasis mine)

When the hastily composed and unarguably partisan 4,155-page $1.7 trillion “Omnibus Spending Bill” for 2023 became the receptacle for all of the porcine lame-duck congressional spending appropriations, practically nothing was left of America’s Outdoor Recreation Act. The campground infrastructure improvement provisions were left out. The public-private cooperation for capital improvements was gone. Omnibus writers brushed aside virtually all of the S.3266 access and public-lands utilization improvement features.

The omnibus instead included a token $400 million for the National Park Service to fund deferred maintenance and modernization projects at campgrounds. It provides a paltry $25 million for the U.S. Forest Service to improve and construct campgrounds, $10 million for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds at lakes and reservoirs, $25 million for BLM campgrounds, and $3 million for the Fish and Wildlife Service to improve and construct campgrounds. How many campgrounds do you think the F&WS will build for $3 million?

These figures are woefully inadequate in the overall scheme of the 2023 Omnibus bill. For perspective, we’re spending $34 billion on military and economic aid to Ukraine. $410 million went to fund border security for Arab countries. The omnibus appropriation provided funding for research and development of new “recreational technologies,” such as virtual and augmented reality.

The abandonment of America’s Outdoor Recreation Act was an atrocious missed opportunity to address the long-standing failure to make the vast public land holdings practically usable and accessible to Americans.

Is the Senate bill dead? Not necessarily.

Senators Manchin and Barrasso did not return calls to clarify the status of S.3266. Still, it is reasonable to believe that there remains sufficient bipartisan support for the bill to resurrect it for future consideration. It would behoove all interested in improving access to and infrastructure on the 640 million acres of U.S. federal lands to contact their senators and representatives and urge them to proceed with the Senate vote.

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Cancelproof
14 days ago

Last week we got to see 6 patriotic Americans drain more of the swamp nastiness during 4 days of leadership votes than thousands of congressman from either party alone or combined has done in 6 decades. The new rules package would allow for a vote on this item and this item only. No add-ons, no money for shrimp treadmills, just the bill proposed.

Forget what party your part of. Stand alone bills for stand alone issues. No more 4,000 page bills fir politicians to hide behind with answers like “I had to vote for it (4,000 pages) or children would have gone hungry”.

How about a bill to feed the children and a seperate bill for national park budgets and seperate one for bank bail outs and crypto oversight. Up or down, accountability to the Voter not the swamp.

Dave Pellegrino
13 days ago
Reply to  Cancelproof

100% agree!

Cindy
14 days ago

If it makes sense you can be sure it won’t happen. There’s not much common sense left in too many of our politicians.

Drew
14 days ago

All of the federal agencies have budgets. We don’t need a new separate organization to fund in order to rehab the outdoor facilities and lands. We just need to bolster the existing system so they can better do their jobs. -Just budget more money to them.

wanderer
14 days ago

Pathetic. There is always an extra $100 billion for arms manufacturers, never a penny to invest in the national parks which are/should be the pride of our nation. An old book on Congress was entitled “Parliament of Whores”. Back then the words were outrageous, now it’s just a statement of fact.

Tommy Molnar
14 days ago

“4,155-page $1.7 trillion Omnibus Spending Bill” . . .
Our nation was already broke before this proposed bill. There is NO fiscal restraint or control – period. Spend, spend, spend, with nothing to back it up – except higher and higher inflation..

Carol
14 days ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

Ditto

Jerry Plante
14 days ago

Government is not the solution to your problem, government is the problem.

Privatize notional parks.

John Irvine
14 days ago
Reply to  Jerry Plante

Great, we’d have Jellystone not Yellowstone.

Dave Pellegrino
14 days ago
Reply to  Jerry Plante

Without the govt, we wouldn’t have the national parks period! Believe me, I’m not a big govt advocate, but they do some things right, then they screw it up afterwards. Privatize it and watch it go to hell. Greedy companies will suck us dry and then try to develop the national park system for their benefit…not ours!!!

Bill K
14 days ago

We represent a large part of the population. Why wasn’t every RV association and newsletter touting this bill and enlist our help to contact our representatives and let them know we supported this bill. Let’s use our numbers the next time to push adding resources to our parks. Each of us complain about the lack of them and could make a difference.

Gary
14 days ago
Reply to  Bill K

“this bill”? You mean the $1.7 trillion omnibus bill. I did not support that and told my reps to vote against it.

Carol
14 days ago
Reply to  Gary

Ditto

Roger B
13 days ago
Reply to  Bill K

Our government doesn’t give a {bleeped} what we the people want or need. It’s only about them and their cronies.

Last edited 13 days ago by Roger B
Micheal Whelan
14 days ago

Our politicians continue to waste money on COVID projects that contain billions of unspent money to fund things that are not identified and will not happen if they are identified, waste billions more on pork projects, and more yet giving illegals high cost hotel room while they let the millions spent to build shelters rot away unused. Yet they ignore some of our most precious national assets and natural resources deteriorate so as not become usable and actually will cause the eventual pollution of our lands and waters…. shameful … Now they want us to follow them into electric vehicle never never land for a technology that is presently more harmful to the environment and our economy and way of life.

D.T. Smith
14 days ago
Reply to  Micheal Whelan

Could not have said it better and we know what party had a majority in both houses and the White House.

Bob M
14 days ago
Reply to  D.T. Smith

It’s both parties fault and voters fault for voting for career politicians who don’t help us.

Dave
14 days ago

Sad. By both parties. A statement that can be written on any day of the week these days.

Bob p
14 days ago

But we had enough to send several million$$ Asia to help them quit smoking, vote anti American again.

D.T. Smith
14 days ago
Reply to  Bob p

And don’t forget Hundreds of Millions for border security fences in the Middle east while Fentanyl has killed over 108000 Americans do to the open border policies now in effect.

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