February 02, 2022
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Angus King (I-Maine) – the Ranking Member and Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks, respectively – today introduced the Gateway Community and Recreation Enhancement Act, an effort to address the growing problem of park overcrowding and boost awareness of lesser-visited recreation areas. The bipartisan bill would create a pilot program to inform potential park visitors in real-time of crowd levels at National Parks or other federal lands as they travel, and provide suggestions for alternative recreation destinations. The legislation comes after months of feedback Senators Daines and King have heard from top National Parks Service (NPS) officials and conservation experts on the issues of overcrowding as many parks see a spike in visitors.
“Our national parks and public lands set us apart from the rest of the world, and the gateway communities know firsthand the benefits and challenges they bring. While increased recreation on our public lands and national parks supports jobs and boosts local economies, it can also put strains on communities, housing and employees. We must work to address these concerns and support the needs of our gateway communities that in turn will help boost local economies and preserve our public lands for future generations,” said Senator Daines.
“From Maine to Montana, public lands provide Americans the space and opportunity to connect with our country’s incredible natural beauty,” said Senator King. “As parks experience record levels of visitation, the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks has engaged with recreation officials to help more people experience these treasures – while being careful to prevent a crush of enthusiastic visitors from loving these lands to death. Today’s bill is part of that effort, working to share data in real time so potential visitors can enjoy the beauty without the crowds. We’re hopeful that our ‘Waze for Parks’ idea can reduce traffic in our nation’s most popular national parks, while shining an overdue spotlight on some of the country’s hidden jewels.”
The Gateway Community and Recreation Enhancement Act would task the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of the Interior (DOI) with creating a pilot program within 2 years where the agencies would provide real-time data on visitation to 20 Federal land management units (15 under DOI jurisdiction, 5 under USDA jurisdiction) and encourage visitation to lesser known adjacent recreation sites in coordination with communities surrounding public lands (gateway communities) along with state and local outdoor recreation entities. Within 5 years, the pilot program would be expanded to 80 additional Federal land management units. The bill would instruct USDA and DOI Secretaries to collaborate with stakeholders in each community to better understand their economic and local needs.
In addition, the bill encourages cooperation between federal land management agencies and gateway communities, directing USDA and DOI to address economic and community needs through partnerships, agreements, and financial assistance. This legislation responds to gateway communities' concerns with housing shortages and infrastructure difficulties due to increasing visitation.
Senator Daines is the top Republican on the U.S. Senate’s National Parks Subcommittee and has championed efforts to increase access to public lands and support national parks and gateway communities. While Chairman of the National Parks Subcommittee in the 115th and 116th Congress, Daines held a field hearing in Gardiner, Montana, a gateway community to Yellowstone National Park, to hear firsthand the benefits and concerns faced by communities, as well as a hearing at Grant Kohrs National Park to discuss visitation at smaller park units. Daines also championed the “Great American Outdoors Act” that invests in our national parks and public lands.
A member of the Energy and Natural Resources and Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Senator King is among the Senate’s loudest voices advocating for public lands and encouraging outdoor recreation. He was recently awarded the inaugural National Park Foundation (NPF) “Hero” Award. Senator King helped lead the passage the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) into law; the legislation includes the Restore Our Parks Act – a bill led by Senator King – and the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) Permanent Funding Act. The historic legislative package continues Senator King’s career-long focus on conservation efforts, dating back to his work prior to running for elected office through his years as Governor and his service in the Senate. Over the course of his time in the Blaine House, Governor King was responsible for conserving more land across Maine than all Governors before him combined.
Praise for the Gateway Community and Recreation Enhancement Act:
“Many counties serve as gateways to America’s treasured public lands, providing essential services to residents and visitors alike,” said National Association of Counties Executive Director Matthew Chase. “The Gateway Community and Recreation Enhancement Act would support counties by collecting real-time visitation data at public lands sites and establishing a pilot program to promote tourism to lesser-known recreation sites managed by federal, state and local agencies. We urge Congress to pass this legislation and thank Senator Daines and Senator King for their efforts to enhance economic opportunities for gateway communities.”
“Western Montana’s Glacier Country is an area that includes many communities considered to be ‘gateways’ to recreation destinations including Glacier National Park. As President CEO of Glacier Country Regional Tourism Commission, I fully support the Gateway Community and Recreation Enhancement Act. At different times of the year, many of our communities are at a breaking point—housing shortages, unsustainable demands on infrastructure, negative impact on natural resources—and the positive economic impact of tourism is being negated by the toll on the communities. The dispersion of visitors to other recreational sites and regions and the collaborations inherent in this bill will be an important move towards long-term sustainable growth that balances quality of life for residents and quality of experience for visitors,” said Racene Friede, President CEO, Glacier Country Regional Tourism Commission.
“The national parks concessions industry applauds the introduction of the Gateway Community and Recreation Enhancement Act and its direction to key federal officials to work with local governments, businesses, and associations to share information and create partnerships to expand the economic and other benefits created by access to national parks, national forests, and other public lands. Authorization already exists for many important undertakings, including expansion of affordable housing, expansion of local infrastructure to provide public health and safety and visitor information. We especially urge more discussion about innovative use of FLREA funds and local tourism taxes to enhance joint communications efforts and to enable all visitors to enjoy safe, memorable outdoor experiences during their visits,” said Derrick Crandall, spokesperson for the National Park Hospitality Association. “Innovative partnerships can expand visitor opportunities while mitigating challenges of unmanaged visitation.”
“Public lands throughout the country are incredibly important for providing Americans with opportunities to recreate, including fishing,” said Glenn Hughes, President of the American Sportfishing Association. “The recreational fishing industry is grateful to Sens. Daines and King for their leadership on the Gateway Community and Recreation Enhancement Act. Recreational fishing opportunities can be found in nearly every national park, forest and wildlife refuge, and modernizing visitation data at these facilities will allow both land managers and the public to better ensure quality fishing experiences.”