In an election year marked by bitter partisanship, racial reckoning and the far-reaching consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, people from across the political spectrum managed to find common ground: America’s public lands and national parks.
President Donald Trump in August signed into law the Great American Outdoors Act, widely hailed as the most important piece of conservation legislation in half a century. A group of legislators from both parties and nearly every region – including the late civil rights icon U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia; retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee; and many more – helped to pass the bill. It guarantees $900 million per year for the long-neglected Land and Water Conservation Fund and sets aside $6.5 billion for backlogged maintenance projects across the country’s 416 national parks.
“There’s probably no better idea that unites us more than our national park system and our system of national forests and public lands,” Alexander, who hails from the Great Smoky Mountains, told Knox News. “To be able to work together to do the most important thing we could do for them in 50 years is unifying, and to do it in the middle of COVID when everybody’s cooped up and wants to be outdoors makes it even better. It was a breath of fresh air in a year that has been pretty dismal in most respects.”
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