May 04, 2022
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine), Chair of the Senate National Parks Subcommittee, today celebrated action by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to advance legislation that will address increased National Park visitation, modernize access to public lands, and recognize the importance of Downeast Maine. As part of Senator King’s efforts to help more people access public lands by utilizing new technologies, the Committee overwhelmingly supported the bipartisan Outdoor Recreation Act of 2022 (ORA), which included language from Senators King and Daines’ “Waze for Parks” bill to show real-time park visitation levels and drive traffic to lesser-visited recreation areas nearby. The ORA also included language requiring federal land managers to provide digital “America the Beautiful” park passes, as requested by Senators King and Daines. The legislation now goes to the full Senate for consideration, and comes shortly after the President Joe Biden signed into law Senator King’s legislation to modernize public land mapping.
“Across our country, public lands provide Americans the opportunity to connect with incredible natural beauty and make memories that last a lifetime,” said Senator King. “As parks from Maine to Alaska experience record levels of visitation, Congress has a responsibility to use all the modern resources at our disposal to help more people experience these treasures while preserving these lands for generations to come. Creating a ‘Waze for Parks’ and digitizing federal land passes will be a huge step in our effort to make enjoying America’s natural beauty easier and more convenient. I’m glad that the Energy and Natural Resources Committee overwhelmingly saw the importance of our bipartisan legislation, and hopeful that Congress can swiftly pass these bills to support our national parks and the communities that rely on them.”
The Outdoor Recreation Act of 2022 (ORA) included language from the Gateway Community and Recreation Enhancement Act that would task the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of the Interior (DOI) with creating a pilot program where the agencies would provide real-time data on visitation to 20 Federal land management units and encourage visitation to lesser known adjacent recreation sites. The ORA also included language to digitize “America the Beautiful” passes after previous requests from Senator King and Daines. These passes cover entrance fees at national parks and national wildlife refuges as well as standard amenity fees at national forests and grasslands, and at lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In total a pass gives access to over 2,000 federal sites. Currently, the passes are only available in a physical plastic form at recreation sites and to be mailed to purchasers.
The Energy and Natural Resources Committee also gave broad bipartisan support to Senator King and Representative Jared Golden’s (D-Maine) legislation to designate Downeast Maine as a National Heritage Area. The legislation, which is cosponsored by Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Representative Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), would designate all of Hancock and Washington counties as an area with national importance, making the region eligible for additional federal investment and helping to drive economic activity to the rural Maine region. The Downeast Maine National Heritage Area designation passed out of committee as part of a larger, National Heritage Area package that will help streamline designation and authorization of these important areas.
“For much of the year, Downeast Maine starts America’s day by greet the first rays on its rocky coasts, rolling mountains and lush forests,” said Senator King. “The region is a fundamental part of our state, and is at the heart of the American identity. Designating Hancock and Washington counties as a National Heritage Area will open the door for critical federal funding, spur increased tourism, and drive important economic activity to our Downeast communities. I’m grateful that my colleagues on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee understood the importance of this effort and hope that Congress can pass this bipartisan designation without delay.”
National Heritage Areas are designations from Congress where historic, cultural, and natural resources combine to form cohesive, nationally important landscapes. Unlike national parks, National Heritage Areas are large lived-in landscapes where communities collaborate with the National Park Service to determine how to make heritage relevant to local interests and economies. These areas qualify for additional federal funding, and work through public-private partnerships to support historic preservation, natural resource conservation, recreation, heritage tourism, new and traditional industries, and educational projects. Leveraging funds and long-term support for projects, these partnerships foster pride of place and an enduring stewardship. There are currently 55 National Heritage Areas across the country.
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. In the April episode of his “Inside Maine” podcast and radio show, King highlighted the importance of National Parks and outdoor recreation with National Parks Subcommittee Ranking Member Senator Steve Daines (R-Mont.); Senator King was also recently awarded the inaugural National Park Foundation (NPF) “Hero” Award.
Senator King helped lead the passage the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) into law in 2020; 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.