Congress recently passed the most significant piece of land conservation legislation in a generation. The Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA)—a rare bipartisan effort—will provide full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million annually and will put $9.5 billion over the next five years toward the deferred maintenance backlog on public lands. The GAOA provides $6.5 billion specifically for the 419 national park units. President Trump signed the bill into law on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020.
Increased Use and Lack of Funding Caused Maintenance Backlog
This piece of legislation will have a historical impact on National Parks in the United States. The number of visitors to national parks has increased by 50% since 1980, but budgets have remained virtually flat. This imbalance has contributed to a $12 billion backlog of repairs to access roads, trails, campgrounds, monuments, and other parks infrastructure.
Parks and recreational trails have recently become even more popular due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With limited indoor entertainment options, people have rediscovered their love for the outdoors. As this trend continues, our national parks must be equipped with the infrastructure necessary to sustain them in the long term.
The Importance of Green Infrastructure & Low Impact Development in Parks
As funds are allocated for maintenance and improvements, park agencies will need to determine how they are going to use this money. The focus needs to be on long-term, sustainable solutions that require less maintenance than the current infrastructure.
The incorporation of green infrastructure into park planning will positively impact the management of water resources and the creation of healthy environments. Stormwater management is an important element of green infrastructure and is beneficial in meeting regulatory requirements and enhancing the public space for the betterment of the community.
National parks are often in environmentally sensitive and undeveloped areas, making a low-impact development solution essential to prevent damage to vegetation and protect wildlife habitats.
Permeable Pavers and 3D Soil Stabilization Provide Sustainable, Low-Maintenance Solutions for Park Infrastructure
There are several opportunities to introduce green infrastructure and low-impact development options into parks through the integration of permeable recreational trails and embankments, green parking areas, and sustainable access roads.
GEOWEB® and GEOPAVE® Trail Stabilization Systems Manage Stormwater and Minimize Disturbance to Natural Environment
Recreational trails built into and through parks allow visitors to safely explore environmentally sensitive areas that would otherwise be difficult to access. The key to planning and building trails into undeveloped or protected areas is using the right reinforcement, drainage, and confinement of surface materials. These are critical components to withstand repeated traffic loading, resist degradation from water, minimize impacts to natural resources, and stabilize adjacent trail embankments.
Through confinement of aggregate infill, Presto’s GEOWEB® and GEOPAVE® Trail Stabilization Systems create a stable, low-maintenance trail surface. The highly permeable systems reduce stormwater runoff and surface water ponding. Both systems perform as on-site, below-ground stormwater retention systems, storing water in the aggregate voids of the pavement layer and base for natural percolation.
Porous Paver Systems Meet Aesthetic and Stormwater Requirements
Expanding parking areas does not have to mean introducing impervious surfaces to natural environments. Presto’s GEOBLOCK®, GEOPAVE®, and GEOWEB® systems provide permanent economical porous pavement solutions in traffic areas where the aesthetics and permeability of grass or aggregate are preferred over traditional paving approaches such as asphalt or concrete. The systems meet a wide range of load support requirements and environmental needs with permeable, aesthetically pleasing alternatives to hard-surface paving.
Build Higher-Performing, Lower-Maintenance Roads into and Through Parks
Roadways are an integral part of park systems, allowing access for both visitors and maintenance vehicles. Today, over 5,000 miles of paved roads traverse the national park system. Maintenance costs on these roadways can consume budgets. When installed under asphalt or concrete, the GEOWEB 3D Soil Stabilization System performs as a semi-rigid beam, creating a stabilized layer over subbase soils. The GEOWEB system reduces the required base material thickness by 50% or more by reducing the loading impact on sub-surface soils. The positive effect on the pavement base layer results in up to 30% reduction in paving depth and an extended pavement life with lower maintenance requirements and costs.
The GEOWEB system can also be used to build site access roads in soft soil environments. The GEOWEB roads are fast to deploy and install—even in remote locations—and frequently allow for the beneficial re-use of on-site fill, resulting in further project cost savings by reducing or eliminating the need for imported fill material. These unpaved roads can be permeable and are inexpensive alternatives to concrete and porous asphalt.
By distributing and bridging applied loads, the GEOWEB system significantly reduces vertical stresses that are typically applied to the underlying soil and root zone. The system offers a low-impact and economical solution to access sites without damaging trees.
The passing of the Great American Outdoors Act offers an opportunity to design sustainable, lower maintenance infrastructure in our national parks that will last another generation. Through the incorporation of green infrastructure and low-impact development systems, these institutions will be able to sustain the continued popularity and growth while preserving the natural beauty of these spaces.