SEQUOIA & KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARK – Visitors to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park will have a fee-free day this Friday as the United States Department of the Interior commemorates the Great American Outdoors Act.
Entrance fees to all national parks, which typically cost $20-35, will be waived Aug. 4 in celebration of the three-year anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) signing. The GAOA allocated money toward two different funds for public land conservation and restoration, which the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) has said is “the single largest investment in public lands in U.S. history.”
“Since 2021, GAOA projects have supported an average of 17,000 jobs and generated an average of $1.8 billion for local economies annually,” a DOI press release said. “For fiscal year 2024, Interior proposed 56 projects that are expected to support more than 17,500 jobs and generate over $1.9 billion for the economy.”
Only park entrance fees will be waived and visitors will still have to pay for overnight camping, day use of special areas and other applicable fees. DOI will also use the day to kick off a month-long tour across the country where leaders will visit project sites funded by the GAOA.
Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland will make an appearance just north of Sequoia and Kings Canyon at Yosemite National Park on Aug. 4.
The GAOA established the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund, which has been used to complete deferred maintenance projects on public land infrastructure. The restoration fund will expire after fiscal year 2025 unless reauthorized by Congress.
According to the DOI, the purpose of the restoration fund is to invest in deferred maintenance and repair projects because over time, putting off those projects “can make assets such as buildings, trail and campsites unsafe or unusable for staff and visitors.”
As of September 2022, the DOI’s estimated backlog of deferred maintenance and repair projects across all public lands was $30.8 billion, with the backlog in California the highest in the country at nearly $4.5 billion.
The GAOA’s restoration fund will have allocated $8.1 billion between fiscal year 2021 and fiscal year 2021, but the DOI’s website says that “even with the largest public lands infrastructure investment in history, routine maintenance and repair needs continue to outpace available funding.”
There are currently two ongoing projects in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park funded by the GAOA. A water system rehabilitation project at the Lodgepole Campground is in the construction phase and a project to rehabilitate the park’s wastewater treatment facilities is in the design phase.
The GAOA also allocated $900 million annually of permanent full funding toward the existing Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which was established in 1964 and previously relied on annual appropriations from Congress. Even once the restoration fund of the GAOA lapses, the LWCF will continue to receive funds.
The DOI website says that the LWCF “safeguards natural areas, water resources and cultural heritage” by protecting wildlife refuges, national parks, national forests and recreation areas and “provides matching grants to state governments for the acquisition and development of public parks and other outdoor recreation sites.”
Those wishing to visit the national parks can also experience entrance fee-free days on Sept. 23 for National Public Lands Day and Nov. 11 for Veterans Day.