The corona virus pandemic has few silver linings, but one that may be the most lasting and positive is the dramatic increase in the number of Americans who have been getting outside. And it’s our vast system of federal, state, and local public lands and parks that make spending time outdoors here in the U.S.A. so easy and enjoyable. Especially here in the West, where the bulk of the nation’s public lands acres are, most of us don’t need to travel far to get away from “No Trespassing” signs to find public lands to wander, lakes and rivers to fish and float, and trails to get away from it all and just ride.

One of the hopes of conservation and recreation advocates and public land managers who fight for and manage our public lands and trails daily is that the COVID-spurred increase in public lands visitations will translate into more support for those lands. Lasting public support for future land, water, and wildlife conservation efforts as well as funding for the maintenance of our existing parks, trails, trailheads, and other recreation facilities and their management could be at least one positive outcome of the pandemic.   

A sign that we may be headed in that direction is the recent passage of the Great American Outdoors Act by a bi-partisan majority of the U.S. Senate. The legislation, which still needs the support of the U.S. House of Representatives before being signed by the president, which he has indicated he will do, could provide billions in needed deferred maintenance funds for our National Parks. Those funds would pay for things like trail and facility maintenance that have been neglected for years, and the bill would also provide permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

The LWCF is one of America’s most important conservation programs that’s been responsible for protecting parks, wildlife refuges, and other public lands and trails across federal, state, and local levels for 50 years. The fund provides crucial funding for conservation and recreation projects as well as the historic preservation of iconic national landmarks, all without tapping into taxpayer coffers; the LWCF is instead exclusively funded from a small portion of revenues from offshore oil and gas royalty payments, which for years have not been making it to the LWCF as intended. The Great American Outdoors Act would put an end to Congressional poaching of these dollars meant for our public lands. 

Columbia Plateau Trail – Cheney, WA. // Photo by Carol Corbin.

This isn’t a time to be cynical and hold off on calling your representative because you think they hate nature. (Click here for a directory of U.S. Representatives.) This legislation has broad, bipartisan support from a wide range of outdoors lovers, from hunters, anglers, and ATV riders to bird watchers, mountain bikers, and backpackers, along with many other diverse user groups with varied political convictions. Call or email them regularly until this thing passes so those of us who love the outdoors can all have something big and positive to celebrate together. Learn more about our public lands and the LWCF here to help inform your comments to Congress: Lwcfcoalition.com.

Also, stay tuned for the next issue of Out There, our September/October issue, which will be our first annual Public Lands issue. Email me for public lands related story pitches, advertising inquiries, or to financially support our effort to make our first and hopefully annual Public Lands issue a reality.

Derrick Knowles is editor-in-chief and co-publisher. He has spent more than 30 years exploring the Inland Northwest’s trails, mountains, lakes, and rivers. He lives in Spokane with his wife, Shallan, co-publisher and visual editor of OTO, and their young son.