Federal money coming to WNC public lands

Public lands in Western North Carolina are set to get a chunk of the $9.5 billion approved for deferred maintenance projects with the ratification of the Great American Outdoors Act. The National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service both released project lists last week.

Hailed as the largest single investment in public lands in the nation’s history, the bipartisan act dedicates up to $9.5 billion over five years to address the much larger maintenance backlog on federal lands, as well as $900 million per year to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has for the past 50 years protected land for parks, wildlife refuges and recreation nationwide. The law requires that half of the money received from energy development revenues on federal lands and waters go toward these programs, not to exceed $1.9 billion in any fiscal year.

Nationwide, the Forest Service has a deferred maintenance backlog of $5.2 billion, while the Park Service’s stands at $12 billion. As of 2018, the last year for which figures are available, the backlog in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was worth $235.9 million, and the Blue Ridge Parkway carried a backlog of $508.1 million.

The funds will go to agencies under both the Department of Interior and Department of Agriculture, each of which is handling the process of prioritizing and carrying out the projects in a different way.

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