Secretary of Interior nominee backs more money for Smokies

At a confirmation hearing Tuesday, Ryan Zinke, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to become U.S. secretary of the interior, committed to more funding of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, reports WPLN.

While the Smokies attract twice as many visitors as Yellowstone, the Tennessee park gets only half of the federal money. It’s also prevented from charging an entrance fee due to the way it was acquired by the federal government.

Zinke acknowledged this disparity during his hearing and said he hopes to work toward solving it.

“The Smokies is different than other parks, it should be recognized,” he said. “Working forward with this committee on the infrastructure bill, we’re hoping we can take a big bite out of the deferred maintenance on infrastructure. There’s a number of roads and facilities in there.”

Zinke was also questioned about the deadly wildfires that started in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and burned through Gatlinburg. He said he would work with Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander to learn from the tragedy and implement prevention strategies.

Note: Alexander’s news release on the hearing is below.

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Congress approves fed assessment of outdoor recreation (similar TN move afoot)

Congress has approved and sent to President Obama’s desk the “Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act of 2016,’which requires the federal government to assess the nation’s outdoor recreation impact and its effect on the overall U.S. economy, reports the Times-Free Press.

The bill directs the Commerce, Agriculture and Interior departments to work through the Bureau of Economic Analysis to conduct the analysis. The resulting report is due to be handed to several congressional committees within two years. The Outdoor Industry Association calls the Rec Act “breakthrough legislation” that could result in positive policy trends for the outdoors.

The OIA has estimated outdoor recreation to be a $646 billion industry. Passage of the Rec Act ensures there will be government-sanctioned statistical reports on the industry on a par with others tracked by the Department of Commerce.

… Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who once chaired the President’s Commission on American Outdoors, grew up hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains. In a statement, he praised Tennessee’s “proud tradition” of protecting lands and heritage while increasing tourism and bringing in money from around the world.

“I look forward to the Commerce Department’s report on the economic benefits of the Great American Outdoors,” Alexander said.

Note: Legislation calling for a Tennessee state government assessment of outdoor activities with an eye toward the future was introduced in the General Assembly last session and passed the Senate unanimously, only to fail in the House Budget Subcommittee. The state had a similar assessment back in 1986, prompted by then-Gov. Alexander. Leaders of the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, which  pushed the idea, have indicated an intent to try again in 2017.


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