Gardner: Great American Outdoors Act Will Boost Colorado’s Economy, Create Thousands of Jobs

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) took to the floor of the U.S. Senate urging passage of the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act, which he introduced with U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), to fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and address the approximately $20 billion maintenance backlog on federal lands. To express what public lands mean to him, to Coloradans, and people all across our country, Gardner shared the story of Amache, a World War II Japanese-American internment camp, and why he is pushing for Amache’s inclusion in the National Park System.

 gaoa 6.11.20

NOTE: Click here or the picture above to download Senator Gardner’s full remarks

On the importance of the outdoor recreation economy in Colorado: (Link)

“I thought I would come to the floor one more time to talk about the benefits of this historic conservation package and what it means for the great state and the people of Colorado. Several years back, this Congress worked in a bipartisan fashion to pass legislation by Senator Shaheen and I that required the Commerce Department, for the first time in our country's history, to break out the outdoor economy as a part of our economic numbers to determine how many jobs this country had in the outdoor industry, in recreation, to determine the overall revenues generated by the recreation economy. And what we discovered was what we knew intuitively, that the recreation economy is a huge part of jobs in this country. Over five million jobs, and in Colorado you're looking at about a $28 billion part of our economy.”

On the backlog of maintenance projects: (Link)

“If you go to Rocky Mountain National Park, of course Rocky Mountain National Park is the third-most heavily visited park in the nation. Almost five million visitors come to Rocky Mountain National Park every year. Just a few years back that was only about 2.8, 3 million people. We've almost doubled visitors in recent times, and that's caused a lot of challenges for Rocky Mountain National Park. And of course this has benefited as well from the Land and Water Conservation Fund because some of the last remaining inholdings within the Rocky Mountain National Park have been purchased using the Land and Water Conservation Fund. And if you look at the Restore Our Parks Act, the money in the Great American Outdoors Act that will go toward catching up with the maintenance backlog, this park has about $85 million worth of needs in terms of that backlog. $85 million worth of projects from visitors' centers and roads and trails. Let me just show one of those trails right here. Here is a trail at Rocky Mountain National Park that you can see, this is what it looked like. You can see the erosion, the washouts, what happens over time with heavy use and weather. You can see the work that we’ve been able to do to maintain and to catch up with the needs in Rocky Mountain National Park. 

“Now, we can do this across our park system, thanks to the Restore Our Parks Act. We will put $1.9 billion a year, paid for by oil and gas revenues, into our National Parks to catch up with the maintenance and backlog needs at places like Rocky Mountain National Park. Because it's $85 million in Rocky Mountain National Park. It's $7 to $8 million in the Great Sand Dunes National Park and in Mesa Verde National Park, it’s almost $75 million. And if you go to Black Canyon of the Gunnison, I’ll show you that right now, Black Canyon of the Gunnison is in need of nearly $7 to $8 million as well for its backlog needs.”

On how the Great American Outdoors Act will boost Colorado’s economy: (Link)

“If you look at the total economic impact, I think it's important that we recognize before coronavirus, we were working on the Great American Outdoors Act as this package that presented two great American values, the crown jewel of our conservation program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, with the Restore Our Parks Act to catch up with our maintenance backlog, both of which are paid for by oil and gas revenues. We talked about them, and we talked about how good it would be for our environment and conservation and preservation for future generations. But we also acknowledged then that there was a great economic benefit. We talked about the numbers. We talked about the recreation economy.

“But now that economic benefit becomes even more important because the first industries that were hit by the shelter-in-place orders and the economic shutdowns were travel industries, hotels, restaurants, tourism, outfitters, ski areas. In Colorado, they closed down the ski areas months ahead of time. The summer recreation start has been delayed because of lingering effects of phases in restoring our economy. And so the economic benefits of the Great American Outdoors Act become all the more important. Some of the hardest-hit communities by coronavirus in Colorado in the first wave have some of the highest unemployment levels in the state. Hotels emptied early, restaurants emptied early, but this bill will create thousands and thousands of jobs.

“According to a report that was just released by the National Park Service in Colorado, thousands of jobs will be created in Colorado alone. Look at the Land and Water Conservation Fund. For every $1 million that is spent on the Land and Water Conservation Fund, it supports between 16 and 30 jobs. Support for 16 and 30 jobs, do you know what that means in a community that may have 20 percent unemployment? 22 percent unemployment? Surrounded by public lands, the Great American Outdoors Act will help put them to work while doing what we love in Colorado – that's protecting our environment. And if you look at the overall numbers that the National Park Service has provided, we're going to be creating, helping support over 100,000 jobs through this legislation. And again, legislation that is paid for through oil and gas revenues.”

On the widespread support for Gardner’s legislation: (Link)

“They are seeing more and more visitors because all of the other public lands are under pressure. When they’re under pressure that means they are more used. And when they are more used, they have more tear and wear, and they’re being loved to death, and we need to provide a way to fund it. That's what the Great American Outdoors Act does.

“National Parks Conservation Association, the American Horse Council, the Trust for Public Lands. Teresa Martinez, Executive Director of the Continental Divide Trail Coalition: ‘In the Rocky Mountain West, public trails are vital to our region's economy and our quality of life.’ 

“The Nature Conservancy, again. Sally Jewell, former Secretary of Interior, previous Secretary of Interior, she signed a letter with six other Secretaries of Interior to talk about the importance of this bill, two of whom are from Colorado, Secretary Ken Salazar, Secretary Gale Norton talking about the need for this legislation. The American Society of Landscape Architects. The list goes on and on and on of people who support this legislation.

“They support it because we value the outdoors. We value our environment. We value our public lands. Colorado has long been the gateway to public lands in this country, but now it's the headquarters to our nation's public lands with the Bureau of Land Management headquartered in Grand Junction, Colorado. So these two bills, put together, represent that chance in a lifetime as we've heard from many of the supporters of this legislation. In Colorado it was called the ‘holy grail’ of conservation legislation by the Durango Herald this morning.”

On Amache and the importance of our nation’s public lands: (Link)

“I think about a specific site in Southeastern Colorado known as Amache. I've got legislation in that is a resource study on whether or not Amache, Colorado should be considered as part of the National Park System. Well let me tell you the history about Amache because there's a monument down the road from this building just a couple of blocks away from it. It was the site in 1943 of a Japanese American internment camp.

“Executive Order 9066, Franklin Roosevelt had said that Japanese Americans would be ripped from their homes, unconstitutionally, and put into these camps. In 1943 there was a high school established at Amache and a woman by the name of Marion Konishi was named the valedictorian of the high school that they had created. And in her speech that she wrote for her valedictorian speech, she talked about what the country meant to her today. Did the country mean the same things that it meant to her before she was behind the searchlights, removed from her home. Did it mean justice and equality and fairness? Did she believe in America?

“She went on to talk about all of the challenges and struggles and things in our history that we know are the darkest moments of our nation: the original sin of slavery, the continued discrimination faced by African Americans in our communities, the treatment of others in our society, waves of immigrants. And she ended it by talking about how the United States has learned from every single one of these moments and that we can overcome them all because America is a place where we learn from our mistakes in the past and we take the actions to correct them and we get back to that idea of justice and fairness and equality.

“I don't know about you, but I think that's the kind of spirit and the kind of hope and the kind of belief and faith in this country that we need right now. As we face some of the biggest challenges that this generation has ever seen, confronting the issue of racism, confronting the issues of inequality. And our national parks are historic areas, our public lands provide us with one more opportunity, one more chance to not forget the dark moments as we look for greater inspiration ahead, as we use this to learn from the past, to reach our highest peaks as a nation. 

“That's the inspiration of the Great American Outdoors Act, the work that we can do through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the work to bring our parks up to snuff for future generations.”


Cory Gardner is a member of the U.S. Senate serving Colorado. He sits on the Energy & Natural Resources Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee, the Commerce, Science, & Transportation Committee, and is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy.