Trust for Public Land’s Chief Impact Officer, Luis Benitez, Advocates for Congress to Pass Outdoors for All Act to Address America’s Park Access Gap
Benitez Testified Before the Federal Lands Subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources on the Importance of the Bipartisan Outdoors for All Act, and the Passage of the Expanding Public Lands Outdoor Recreation Experiences [EXPLORE] Act
Washington, D.C. – Earlier today, Luis Benitez, Trust for Public Land’s Chief Impact Officer testified before the Federal Lands Subcommittee of the House Committee on Natural Resources to voice Trust for Public Land’s [TPL] support for the Outdoors for All Act which is included as part of the EXPLORE Act package. Benitez applauded the bipartisan leadership demonstrated by both the House and Senate in support of the Outdoors for All Act [O4A Act] and emphasized its critical importance in addressing the park access gap.
“In the U.S., 100 million people, including 28 million children, don’t have access to a park within a 10-minute walk of home. Again, one-third of Americans and 28 million children live in communities facing a severe park access gap,” said Luis Benitez, TPL Chief Impact Officer. “That is why it is essential we pass the Outdoors for All Act, to help level the playing field across the country, and avoid leaving many struggling communities behind in the outdoor recreation progress we’re making, and we all hope to sustain.”
The Outdoors for All Act would codify the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership grant program, a nationally competitive federal grant program, through the National Park Service, that provides funding for new or significantly improved parks and recreation spaces in economically disadvantaged communities with few parks and little to no access to public outdoor recreation spaces. TPL was a leader in the creation of the ORLP program and has advocated for increased funding for the ORLP program over the last several years. Nine years ago, TPL worked with Congress to create the program and has worked with the National Park Service and communities across America since then to leverage ORLP resources to build new or improved parks for people who can benefit the most.
“Access to the outdoors is a fundamental human need and all communities are stronger, healthier, and more connected when everyone can get outside and engage with nature. ORLP provides vital support for our nation’s more populous communities where parks and open spaces are lacking, with all the problems that entails, from heat islands to inadequate park access that deprives kids of the connection with nature that is so important to their health and to creating a love of the outdoors, continued Benitez. “Outdoors for All improves upon that essential program by expanding its reach and heightening its focus. Outdoors for All will codify that vital program and that’s a critical first step to closing America’s park equity gap for all communities.”
The Outdoors for All provision will for the first time allow for direct ORLP participation by Indian tribes and indigenous communities. Over the years, TPL has worked with more than 70 tribes and Native groups to protect homelands and culturally significant places such as ancestral burial grounds, fishing sites, and lands that supply traditional foods and medicines. Through these efforts more than 200,000 acres have been protected or returned to Native Americans and Native Hawaiians.
Outdoors for All will also lower ORLP’s population floor for eligible applicants to communities of 25,000 residents – and will allow two or more adjacent areas to join in “clusters” to apply for ORLP grants, which will expand the program’s reach to hundreds more cities and towns that face a gap in park access.
“Parks are not ‘nice-to-have’ amenities; they are ‘must-have’ public infrastructure. They provide multiple benefits to the communities that rely upon them. And now is the time to work together to ensure these benefits are available to more of the neighborhoods that need them most. That is why TPL is pleased to see the Outdoors for All language included in the EXPLORE Act. With that language, we fully support the Committee’s work to advance this legislation, and we look forward to working with you to enact comprehensive recreation legislation that expands ORLP’s reach and impact for communities across the country,” concluded Luis Benitez before the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources.
TPL endorsed the Outdoors for All Act in 2021 when it was first introduced and has spent 2023 advocating with Congressional leaders about the importance of connecting everyone to the outdoors and for passage of the Outdoors for All Act. Those efforts include earlier this year, when staff and local conservation leaders, as part of TPL’s “Day on the Hill” efforts, met with nearly 100 offices speaking with legislators about the importance of passing the O4A Act and addressing the park equity gap. If passed, this legislation will help more people benefit from the nation’s impressive $1 trillion outdoor recreation economy, which is built upon the backbone of our local parks.
TPL has been part of a broad coalition pushing for legislative action including the America the Beautiful for All (ATB4All) Coalition which, along with TPL, has led a sustained advocacy campaign for passage of the Outdoors for All Act.
About Trust for Public Land
Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national nonprofit that works to connect everyone to the benefits and joys of the outdoors. As a leader in equitable access to the outdoors, TPL works with communities to create parks and protect public land where they are needed most. Since 1972, TPL has protected more than 4 million acres of public land, created more than 5,364 parks, trails, schoolyards, and iconic outdoor places, raised $94 billion in public funding for parks and public lands, and connected nearly 9.4 million people to the outdoors. To learn more, visit tpl.org