As parts of Arkansas reach record-high May temperatures, there is excitement about the summer and the opportunities we have to connect with the unique environment in our state. We are blessed to have amazing treasures in our backyard that provide endless enjoyment for outdoor enthusiasts. We must work to ensure our recreation sites continue to be a source of pride for generations to come.
In recent years, Congress has made investments to protect and improve public access to federal recreation areas including through passage of The Great American Outdoors Act, which represented a serious commitment to conserving and preserving public lands. We must continue that commitment at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)-managed areas.
The USACE is one of the nation's largest federal outdoor recreation providers overseeing more than 400 lake and river projects in 43 states. In Arkansas, these include popular destinations such as Bull Shoals, Beaver, Ouachita, Greers Ferry and Norfork Lakes.
With 90 percent of USACE-managed locations situated within 50 miles of a major metropolitan area, they attract untold visitors, and like other federal land management areas, encompass well-used facilities in need of repairs.
Much of the USACE recreation infrastructure was constructed decades ago and since then interest to explore these locations has increased. The USACE indicates visits to its public lands and waters grew by more than 12 million in 2021 from the previous year, but maintenance and upkeep of facilities has not matched this growth.
We’ve crafted a new way to deliver improvements to these locations with the introduction of the Lake Access Keeping Economies Strong (LAKES) Act. This bipartisan legislation opens the door for public-private investments and gives local districts more flexibility to reinvest the resources they collect.
Unlike the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and National Parks Service, existing law prevents local USACE managers from keeping recreation fee revenues from its users onsite. The LAKES Act would allow the money collected at these locations to be reinvested into the very places they are generated.
Outdoor recreation is an economic driver for Arkansas communities. The industry accounts for more than 39,000 jobs and contributes $3.5 billion to our state’s GDP. Allowing local USACE leaders to manage how funds are reinvested in their sites will better support the communities near these popular destinations.
As a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, I work closely with USACE officials to support our nation’s water infrastructure, drinking water and recreation needs. In a recent hearing, the agency’s leadership expressed appreciation for the effort to deliver additional support to its facilities so visitors are sure to get the most out of their experience.
While we look forward to spending more time outdoors over the next few months, my colleagues and I are working to secure a new method to support the needs of some of the most fun summer spots so we can maintain and improve beloved facilities in The Natural State and continue attracting visitors for years to come.