Bipartisan bill in Senate encourages outdoor recreation improvements

Recently, Kevin Cramer (R-ND), member of the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, and Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM), member of the Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee, introduced the Lake Access Keeping Economies Strong (LAKES) Act. This bipartisan bill would improve outdoor recreation facilities in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)-managed areas, provide new opportunities for public-private investments, and give local districts more flexibility to reinvest their resources.

The USACE is one of the largest federal outdoor recreation providers in the nation, managing nearly 257,000 facilities in 43 states. Under existing law, local USACE managers cannot retain recreation fee revenues collected onsite, an authority afforded to the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Parks Service. The National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) has long advocated for Army Corps retention fee authorization as the agency is among the nation’s leading providers of public recreation access, including recreational boating and fishing, across the country.

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is a leading provider of public recreation opportunities for recreational boaters and all outdoor enthusiasts, positioning the agency as a key facilitator of significant economic activity in communities across the country. The Lake Access Keeping Economies Strong (LAKES) Act will allow the Corps to reinvest recreation fees into the operations and maintenance of recreation access points– a huge asset for the agency’s ability to keep high-use infrastructure and facilities in safe and good working condition for millions of Americans that rely on Corps managed recreation sites to experience the outdoors,” said Frank Hugelmeyer, President of the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA). “As Americans take advantage of recreation opportunities our nation’s parks and lakes systems afford, investing in a historically underfunded – albeit integral – recreation agency such as the Corps is critical in ensuring our nation’s infrastructure is kept up to date and the local economic activity driven by recreation is safeguarded. We applaud Senators Cramer and Heinrich for their bipartisan leadership in prioritizing safe, accessible public recreation opportunities through introduction of the LAKES Act.”

The Challenge Cost Sharing Cooperative Management Program was created for participating agencies to split operation and management (O&M) expenses and responsibilities with eligible outside groups. However, the USACE is limited to partnering with non-federal public entities, despite most interest coming from private and nonprofit organizations.

To correct these issues, the LAKES Act would allow the USACE to:

  • Retain 80% of recreation fees collected onsite for O&M at that location.
  • Enter into cooperative agreements with local nonprofits.
  • Handle partner-collected fees and return them to the partner jointly managing the recreation facility to reinvest onsite.

Learn more about the LAKES Act here.