Gov. Lee, Sen. Alexander celebrate park funding from Great American Outdoors Act

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GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WATE) — Relief is finally on the way for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and its backlog of more than $200 million infrastructure projects.

Tennessee dignitaries came together to mark the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act on Friday at the Sugarlands Visitor Center on the edge of the park. The federal legislation, passed in early August, puts $6.5 billion toward maintenance for all national parks.

Gov. Bill Lee proclaimed Oct. 30, 2020, as Great American Outdoor Act Day in Tennessee and credited outgoing Sen. Lamar Alexander for fighting for the park funding.

“The Smokies have 384 miles of road,” Lee said. “They see more than 12 million visitors a week. This money aims to help them keep up those numbers.”

Park Superintendent Cassius Cash also celebrated Alexander’s achievements.

“I consider you an American treasure for helping us protect America’s ideal,” Cash said. “As I said in (Washington) D.C., all of us in the National Parks Service, tip our hat in saying thank you.”

Alexander said the funding is the biggest investment in national parks in more than 50 years.

“What this does, not just for the Smokies, for Cherokee National Forrest, for Tennessee Wildlife Refuge, for the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center in Hawaii, it takes these treasures we have and makes them places we want to go,” he said.

Alexander went on to share the credit with lawmakers from both parties for coming together in making the bill a law.

“This bill has more participation,” he said. “Every body from President (Donald) Trump, to the most left-wing environmental group to the most right-wing environmental group, we were all in this together. That’s how we got a result.”

The exact amount of funding the Great Smoky Mountain National Park will receive is still unknown but a park spokesperson said they expect to hear a dollar amount soon. The park’s backlog of projects include road maintenance, water line construction, upgrades to visitor centers and more.

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