Why the Great American Outdoors Act Matters to the A.T. 

August 4, 2023

The passage of the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) on August 4, 2020, marked a significant milestone for conservation efforts in the United States by designating billions in funds through multiple sources to support our national parks, national forests, and other conserved areas. As a unit of the national park system, the Appalachian Trail has benefited from the act through increased funding from the National Park Service. Unfortunately, not all of these funds are permanent. 

A crucial funding source established by the GAOA will expire in 2 years unless Congress acts to reinstate it. That’s why it’s important to understand how the GAOA supports conservation activities and what you can do to ensure this critical funding for public lands endures. 

How the GAOA Supports Conservation Activities 

The GAOA provides supports for two important conservation funds: 

  1. The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), first created in 1965, was permanently funded by the GAOA at $900 million annually. The LWCF is like the bank account the United States uses to acquire areas for national parks, national forests, and other land for public use. The LWCF also provides millions of dollars annually to states to create everything from baseball fields to public gardens. If it were not for the LWCF, the A.T. we hike today would not exist.
  2. The Legacy Restoration Fund (LRF) was established by the GAOA for a period of five years. It makes available $1.9 billion per year to support vital deferred maintenance projects. The largest share of LRF funding goes to the National Park Service ($1.2 billion per year), followed  by the U.S. Forest Service ($285 million per year). The LRF is essential to fund repair work on the Trail itself, as well as bridges and other infrastructure. The LRF does not provide funding for protecting natural resources along the Trail, however. 

What the ATC Has Done to Support the GAOA 

The ATC played a key role in advocating for the GAOA, actively engaging in discussions with other non-governmental organizations, agencies, and the Congress to ensure its passage. Given how much of the Trail Corridor runs through national forest land, the ATC and the A.T.’s 30 Trail Maintaining Clubs stood together to advocate for the Forest Service to be eligible to receive financial support through the LRF. Because of this advocacy, dedicated funding for the Forest Service was included in the final version of the bill. 

Between now and September 2025, when the LRF is set to expire, the ATC will be in continuous communication with our federal agency partners and Congressional contacts to underscore the importance of permanent sources of funding for public lands including the A.T. 

Capitol Hill

A key role of the ATC and A.T. advocates is to make sure Members of Congress understand how the policies they enact could affect places like the Appalachian Trail.

What You Can Do to Support the GAOA 

The ATC encourages all those who love the Trail to educate themselves on the GAOA’s importance, reach out to their Senators and Representatives to express their support for reauthorizing the LRF, and consider contributing to the ATC to support our vital work in advocating for more permanent and strategic support for the A.T. corridor. 

A.T. hiker looks over blue mountains in the distance

People who love the Appalachian Trail are some of the best advocates for its protection. Photo by Patrick Hare

The Great American Outdoors Act is a great example of successful bipartisan collaboration and the power of collective advocacy in safeguarding our natural heritage. However, the work is far from over. The continued support and engagement from A.T. enthusiasts is essential to ensure the sustained protection and accessibility of our cherished outdoor spaces. 

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