Now that Congress has passed the Great American Outdoors Act, outdoors enthusiasts in West Virginia stand to benefit.
It’s too early to know what those benefits will look like, but they probably will include upgrades for federal, state and local recreation facilities.
Look for infrastructure improvements at the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, the New River Gorge National River, the Monongahela and George Washington and Jefferson national forests, and the Canaan Valley and Ohio River Islands national wildlife refuges.
Look also for improvements at state parks, county and municipal parks, and even at state-operated wildlife management areas.
“I would characterize the Great American Outdoors Act as probably the most significant public-land conservation legislation enacted in my lifetime,” said Paul Johansen, wildlife chief for the state Division of Natural Resources.
“The magnitude of the funding, the scope of the funding, and what it’s intended to do are truly historic.”
The numbers seem to bear Johansen out. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, money from the GAOA will result in $9 billion in consumer spending, 91,000 jobs, and $2.4 billion in wages and salaries in West Virginia alone.
“Those numbers might seem large, and perhaps even unrealistic, but folks involved in the outdoor industry have a really good idea what’s going on,” Johansen said.
The money will come from two components of the GAOA.
The first, the National Park and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund directs $9 billion to be used over a 5-year span to address deferred maintenance issues on federally controlled lands. About $6.5 billion of that total will go to national parks. The rest will be spent on national forests and national wildlife refuges.
As much money as that is, it looks like a drop in the bucket compared to the cash that will flow from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
The fund was created in 1965 to acquire and maintain lands for use by the public. The money comes from fees and royalties paid by companies that drill for oil and gas in federal waters, from the sale of surplus federal lands, and from taxes on motorboat fuel.
The fund should have provided $900 million a year for public lands. It didn’t, though, because Congress swiped an average of $421 million a year for use in other programs.
The GAOA fixed the problem. From now on, public lands will get the full $900 million.
West Virginia will get some of that. No one knows yet how much, but the state Development Office is drawing up a wish list.
The law requires each state to devise a Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan, a blueprint the feds use to divvy up the money. The plans have to be updated every five years, and West Virginia’s is due to be updated this year.
Johansen said historically, local governments have used LWCF money to develop parks, picnic areas, swimming pools and the like.
“It could also be used to acquire land for state parks or for wildlife management areas,” Johansen said. “And it could be used to fund infrastructure projects like boat ramps and shooting ranges.
“No doubt some of this money will come to West Virginia. I hope the spigot gets turned on pretty good, because we would put those dollars to good use. West Virginia is state where people focus on the outdoors. I think we could take full advantage of the funding opportunities this legislation provides.”