House Passes Historic Outdoor Recreation Legislation

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Key Takeaways

On April 9, the U.S. House approved the bipartisan Expanding Public Lands Outdoor Recreation Experiences (EXPLORE) Act (H.R.6492). Led by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.-4) and Ranking Member Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.-7), this comprehensive and bicameral legislation aims to enhance access and revamp outdoor recreation opportunities across our nation's public lands and provide counties with the tools to harness outdoor recreation opportunities to drive growth within our communities.

Key provisions of the EXPLORE Act:

  • Supporting gateway communities: Addressing issues faced by gateway communities, the bill tackles housing shortages, parking, infrastructure challenges, and overcrowding concerns. By bolstering these communities, the bill fosters sustainable economic and community development in public lands counties.
  • Modernizing technology: The bill prioritizes modernizing technology at outdoor recreation facilities on public lands to enrich visitor experiences and enhance data collection. This includes initiatives like increasing broadband connectivity at recreation sites, introducing digital recreation passes, and launching pilot programs to monitor visitation.
  • Streamlining permitting: Recognizing the importance of small businesses reliant on public lands, the EXPLORE Act streamlines the permitting process and alleviates burdensome fees for outdoor recreation projects and businesses.
  • Managing park overcrowding: the EXPLORE Act provides resources to combat park overcrowding by funding parking expansion projects in high-traffic parks and encouraging public recreation in less-traveled areas to relieve pressure on popular destinations.
  • Enhancing accessibility: A major highlight is the bill’s commitment to improving accessibility for individuals with disabilities. It mandates the creation of new accessible trails and recreation opportunities across public lands, ensuring inclusivity in outdoor activities.
  • Promoting recreation for service members and veterans: Recognizing the benefits of outdoor recreation on health and wellbeing, the EXPLORE Act promotes opportunities for active service members and veterans to engage in recreational activities on public lands.
  • Creating long-distance bike trails: The bill encourages the creation of new long-distance bike trails, promoting new recreation and tourism opportunities for county residents and visitors.
  • Improving access for sportsmen and women: The bill prioritizes enhancing access for sportsmen and women on public lands, ensuring they can enjoy hunting, fishing, and other recreational pursuits with greater ease.
  • Modernizing and restoring campgrounds: The EXPLORE Act aims to modernize and restore campgrounds, ensuring that these facilities meet the evolving needs of visitors while preserving the natural environment.

To read a section-by-section summary of the EXPLORE Act, click here.

Why the EXPLORE Act matters to counties:

A growing number of counties are turning to outdoor recreation to drive economic growth in the communities we serve. The outdoor recreation industry is one of the nation’s fastest growing economic sectors. In 2023 alone, the industry contributed $1.1 trillion in annual gross economic output, representing 2.2 percent of U.S. gross domestic product. In turn, the outdoor recreation industry supported more than 5 million jobs for county residents. 

Counties across the nation stand to benefit significantly from the provisions outlined in the EXPLORE Act. Here's why:

  • Economic development: By investing in outdoor recreation opportunities, the Act lays the groundwork for sustainable economic growth in communities across the country. Increased tourism and outdoor recreational activities can bolster local businesses, create jobs, and improve quality of life for residents and visitors.
  • Infrastructure enhancement: Provisions that tackle housing shortages, parking, and infrastructure challenges in gateway communities can provide small counties with vital tools to address the most serious challenges impacting their residents. Improved infrastructure not only enhances economic opportunities and visitor experiences but also contributes to the overall livability of these areas.
  • Inclusivity and accessibility: The Act's focus on enhancing accessibility to public lands ensures that all residents, including veterans, children, and those with disabilities, can partake in outdoor recreation activities. 
  • Environmental stewardship: By providing funding to develop public parks in underserved areas, promoting recreation in less-traveled areas and implementing measures to combat park overcrowding, the EXPLORE Act supports counties in preserving natural landscapes and wildlife habitats while delivering essential services to residents and visitors.

If passed into law, the EXPLORE Act would empower counties and our partners to transform outdoor recreation experiences on public lands while fostering vibrant communities in both urban and rural America. 

What’s next for the EXPLORE Act?

Now that the EXPLORE Act has passed the U.S. House, attention now turns to the U.S. Senate. The EXPLORE Act’s senate companion, the bipartisan America’s Outdoor Recreation Act (S.873) sponsored by Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Jon Barrasso (R-Wyo.), was passed out of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in July 2023 and awaits consideration on the Senate floor. 

Urge your lawmakers to support America’s Outdoor Recreation Act to boost outdoor recreation on public lands and aid local economies.

 

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