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We’ve spent so much time covering the impending passage and signing of the Great American Outdoors Act, and gnashing our teeth and wringing our hands over every other bit of news in 2020, that yesterday, when President Trump signed GAOA into law, it almost seemed ho-hum. The big work was getting the legislation through the Senate, and once that was accomplished last month, it was inevitable it would become law.

The National Park Service, however, did not let the day go by without some serious celebration. As it should; part of GAOA is an injection of billions of dollars to pay for desperately need maintenance in the national parks. To celebrate, NPS is not charging admission into the nation’s parks today, August 5.

But more importantly, they’ve announced that going forward, August 4 will be a NPS holiday every year, with free entrance to parks.

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“President Trump has just enacted the most consequential dedicated funding for national parks, wildlife refuges, public recreation facilities and American Indian school infrastructure in U.S. history,” said Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt. “I’ve designated August 4th as Great American Outdoors Day and waived entrance fees to celebrate the passage of this historic conservation law.”

The passage of this law comes at an interesting time for the Trump Administration and its stance toward conservation.

Backcountry skiers and climbers groups are preparing to sue the White House over a gutting of the National Environmental Policy Act, a bit of law that requires federal decision making to be transparent when it comes to approving projects with the potential for environmental harm. The Trump Administration has also gutted the Waters of the United States rule, which protects small streams and the headwaters of big watersheds from pollution.

The passage of the GAOA, however, was bipartisan, with wide support among a politically divided public, and among some republican legislators fighting difficult reelection battles in purple states, showing that while the White House clearly favors business over conservation interests, they also realize how popular legislation is that keeps the nation’s park systems fully functional.

Further, Donald Trump Jr. has recently taken to social media to push his father to block the Pebble Mine, an extremely controversial plan to mine precious metals near Alaska’s pristine Bristol Bay, the world’s biggest salmon fishery. Trump Jr., a dedicated hunter and angler, has said it isn’t worth the risk of damaging such a special place for wildlife. “The headwaters of Bristol Bay and the surrounding fishery are too unique and fragile to take any chances with,” he said in a Tweet.

In the midst of uncertainty surrounding how the White House will act regarding conservation, the passage of the GAOA is a big, and, frankly, surprising win for conservation groups, though some still question the logic of relying on funding from fossil fuel royalties to fund part of the legislation.

Regardless, the NPS is clearly proud of this historic achievement, and now, you can enjoy another day of free admission.

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Photo: Everett McIntire

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