House Natural Resources Committee

Federal Lands Subcommittee

Legislative Hearing on Access to Public Lands

1334 Longworth
Tue, 19 Sep 2023 18:15:00 GMT

On Tuesday, September 19, 2023, at 2:15 p.m., in room 1334 Longworth House Office Building, the Subcommittee on Federal Lands will hold a legislative hearing on the following bills:

  • H.R. 1657 (Rep. Stauber), “Lake Winnibigoshish Land Exchange Act of 2023”;
  • H.R. 3107 (Rep. Neguse), “Improving Outdoor Recreation Coordination Act”;
  • H.R. 3200 (Rep. Zinke), “Gateway Community and Recreation Enhancement Act”; and
  • H.R. 4984 (Rep. Comer), “D.C. Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium Campus Revitalization Act”.

Hearing memo


Panel I (Members of Congress):
  • To Be Announced
Panel II (Administration Officials and Outside Experts):
  • Mike Reynolds, Deputy Director, Congressional and External Relations, National Park Service, Washington, D.C. [H.R. 3107, H.R. 3200, H.R. 4984]
  • Jacqueline Emanuel, Associate Deputy Chief, National Forest System, U.S. Forest Service, Washington, D.C. [H.R. 1657, H.R. 3107, H.R. 3200]
  • Cory Smith, Commissioner, District 1, Itasca County, MN [H.R. 1657]
  • Randy Brodehl, Commissioner, Flathead County, Kalispell, MT [H.R. 3200]
  • Ambreen Tariq, Senior Program Director, Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, Washington, D.C. [H.R. 3107 and H.R. 3200]
  • Delano Hunter, Acting Director, D.C. Department of General Services, Washington, D.C. [H.R. 4984]

Lake Winnibigoshish Land Exchange Act of 2023

In and around federal land, small and often times family-owned businesses provide robust outdoor recreation experiences. This is true in northcentral Minnesota in the Chippewa National Forest and Lake Winnibigoshish. Along the pristine lake, Bowen Lodge, a fishing and hunting resort, has been welcoming guests since 1982. Currently, the Lodge has a 20-year permit from the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to operate and maintain a marina along the lakeshore. The resort would like to acquire approximately 13.8 acres of federal land adjacent to their property, which contains approximately 1,640 feet of shoreline and would provide permanent access to the lake. H.R. 1657 would facilitate a land exchange between Bowen Lodge and the USFS. This legislation would provide certainty and predictability for the business, employees, and guests to ensure the continued use of the marina. In exchange for the land, the resort would convey approximately 38 acres of land on Lake Winnibigoshish to the USFS to be added to the Chippewa National Forest. The USFS proposed this acreage in order to better align with property boundaries and management of the exchange parcel. H.R. 1657 establishes an equal value exchange between the parcels. If necessary, a cash equalization payment between the parties will be pursued in order to equalize values. Exchanging these parcels is a win-win, as it would provide permanent access to Lake Winnibigoshish for the Lodge and eliminate a headache-inducing checkerboard pattern of land ownership for USFS. This is a continuation of the Committee’s work to “right size” the federal estate by allowing for greater access and reducing checkerboard land ownership. So far this Congress, the Committee has moved legislation that would reduce the amount of federal land ownership by 4,530 acres. H.R. 1657 is a bipartisan bill led by Representative Stauber (R-MN) and co-sponsored by Representatives Brad Finstad (R-MN), Michelle Fischbach (R-MN), Joe Neguse (D-CO), and Jared Huffman (D-CA).

H.R. 3107 (Rep. Neguse), “Improving Outdoor Recreation Coordination Act” Outdoor recreation serves as a gateway to numerous physical, mental, and societal benefits. Engaging in outdoor activities, whether it’s hiking, camping, cycling, or simply spending time in nature, promotes physical fitness and a healthier lifestyle, reducing the risk of chronic diseases.2 In addition to enhancing physical wellbeing, outdoor recreation fosters a deeper appreciation for our country’s natural resources, inspiring environmental stewardship, and conservation efforts.3

It also strengthens the bonds of community as people come together to share recreational experiences, reinforcing the idea that access to outdoor spaces is fundamental to a prosperous society. Despite the fact that public lands play an important role in outdoor recreation, there are often conflicting levels of access or policies among the federal land management agencies. Increased coordination between these agencies could help improve access, elevate recreation as a priority among land managers, and reduce conflicting policies among federal agencies. H.R. 3107, the “Improving Outdoor Recreation Coordination Act,” would establish the Federal Interagency Council on Outdoor Recreation (“Council”), to coordinate outdoor recreation policies among the various land management agencies. The bill aims to streamline processes across federal agencies to keep recreation on public lands enjoyable and sustained. This Council would also be responsible for coordination between various federal agencies involved in outdoor recreation and related activities such as the NPS, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and USFS. The responsibilities of the Council would include coordinating interagency policies related to recreation management across agencies, addressing disruptions in recreational areas, managing funds designated for outdoor recreation, and circulating informational materials to the public. The bill would not impact existing authorities, regulations, or policies of individual federal agencies involved in outdoor recreation. This bipartisan bill is co-led by Representative Lawler (R-NY). H.R. 3200 (Rep. Zinke), “Gateway Community and Recreation Enhancement Act” Recently released data from NPS demonstrates the impact visitors to our public lands have on the economy, particularly rural economies. In 2022, visitors to national parks generated a record $50.3 billion in economic benefits and supported over 378,400 jobs.6 The economic impact of recreating on federal lands is felt far and wide by the communities surrounding the federal land’s borders and entrances – often referred to as gateway communities. In national parks alone, more than 312 million visitors spent an estimated $23.9 billion in gateway communities in 2022. This estimate does not include spending by visitors to other locations managed by the BLM, USFWS, or USFS.

H.R. 3200, the “Gateway Community and Recreation Enhancement Act,” addresses the roles and needs of gateway communities as they support visitation to federal lands. Under the legislation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of the Interior (DOI) would assess the needs of gateway communities with respect to housing, municipal infrastructure, visitation and crowding in consultation with state and local governments, Tribes, housing authorities, and non-profit organizations. H.R. 3200 also provides avenues to address these challenges including financial or technical assistance; entering into leases, rights-of-way, easements, or issuing special use permits; and encouraging the Departments’ Secretaries to enter into public-private partnerships, cooperative agreements, or memorandums of understanding.

Gateway communities are often small, rural towns whose economy depends on seasonal visitation and access the local federal lands. Therefore, any closing or reduction of access to a national park can have severe implications for the gateway community and the families and small businesses whose livelihoods depend on predictable access. To address this, H.R. 3200 requires the NPS to consult local communities via public meetings and a minimum 60-day comment period before restricting access to national parks. There are exemptions if the park must close due to health and safety concerns. The bill also provides avenues for increased visitor access and experiences across federal land recreation units. The bill would require agencies to create a digital version of the America the Beautiful National Parks and public lands pass so visitors can seamlessly access public lands via their mobile device. The bill also establishes a pilot program to provide visitation data for recreation lands. The visitation data could encourage visitation of lesser-known areas, such as trails, to avoid congestion. This bipartisan bill, co-led by Representatives Zinke (R-MT) and Peltola (D-AK) has seven additional cosponsors. A companion bill was introduced by Senators Steve Daines (R-MT) and Angus King (I-ME). A similar version of this bill was included in the Senate’s Recreation Package (S. 873, America’s Outdoor Recreation Act of 2023). S.873 passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, as amended, by voice vote.

H.R. 4984 (Rep. Comer), “D.C. Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium Campus Revitalization Act” The Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium Campus (RFK) encompasses approximately 142 acres of NPS land located in the eastern part of the District of Columbia (D.C.). RFK is owned by the City of D.C., which also has a lease NPS on the land underneath and surrounding the stadium from for sports and recreation use until 2038. From the early 1900’s until 1957, the land was used as a park and open space.9 In 1957, Congress authorized construction of a stadium on the land. The D.C. Stadium opened in 1961 as a multipurpose stadium for the football team now known as the Washington Commanders and the Washington Senators (a Major League Baseball team). By 1969, the D.C. Stadium was renamed RFK Stadium in honor of Robert F. Kennedy. In 1996, the football team played their last game and the stadium. The Washingtom Nationals briefly utilized the stadium from 2005 to 2007 and D.C. United, a Major Leage Soccer team, utilized the facility until 2017. The stadium is now vacant, falling into disrepair, and is set to be demolished.

H.R. 4984 creates a long-term opportunity for coordination between the D.C. and the federal government for the future development and use of the RFK site. The “D.C. Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium Campus Revitalization Act” would transfer administrative jurisdiction of the RFK stadium site from the Secretary of the Interior to the General Services Administration (GSA). GSA provides centralized procurement and shared services for the federal government, including real estate. GSA manages a nationwide real estate portfolio of nearly 370 million rentable square feet. Under the legislation, GSA would be required to enter into a lease with D.C., under which D.C. may use the land for stadium purposes, commercial and residential development, providing recreational facilities or open space, or additional public purposes. The bill allows for a lease of up to 99 years, which may be renewed by GSA. The bill ensures any development of the site will not adversely impact the land, including the restoration of wetlands; is at least 30 percent parks and open space; will improve access to the Anacostia River and maintain access to the Anacostia River Trail; provide for necessary parking facilities and public safety measures; and will reduce noise and traffic in surrounding areas. Cosponsors include Delegate Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Representative LaTurner (R-KS).