The EXPLORE Act Passes the House — But What Does That Mean?

Posted by
Heather Balogh Rochfort
April 15, 2024

The Narrows, Zion National Park
Exploring our public lands in Zion National Park

Politics are polarizing these days, but they also pair with the outdoors like peas and carrots (at least, if you ask Forrest Gump). Case in point: last week’s bipartisanship approval of the EXPLORE Act. 

The EXPLORE Act is an acronym that stands for Expanding Public Lands Outdoor Recreation Experiences (EXPLORE). This first-of-its-kind policy package is designed to increase access to public lands and waters for all outdoor enthusiasts. It was passed through the House by a voice vote from lawmakers, and it is now expected to be taken up by the Senate in the coming weeks.

The EXPLORE Act is good news for outdoor enthusiasts.

But still, we are are drowning in public policy these days. Headlines are constantly screaming at us about one policy or another, so it’s tough for the average weekend warrior to keep up with the constant flow of news. 

But this one is especially important for those of us who love recreating outside, so we wanted to take a closer look. If you enjoy hiking, biking, camping, paddling, fishing, hunting or any number of the other outdoor recreation opportunities afforded to us in this country, the EXPLORE Act applies to you. Here’s what it includes. 

What is the EXPLORE Act?

This bipartisan package was first introduced by Congressman Westerman (R-AR) Congressman Grijalva (D-AZ), both of the House Natural Resources Committee. In companionship with its accompanying bill — America’s Outdoor Recreation Act, or AORA — the EXPLORE Act is designed to improve our management of public lands and water so that we can all enjoy better access and increased use of these wild spaces.

If the EXPLORE Act passes, it would do things like modernize technology in ways that improve visitor experiences or restore campgrounds and improve accessibility for folks with disabilities or military service members. 

Fall color in White River National Forest, Colorado
Exploring Colorado’s White River National Forest during the fall (PC: Heather Balogh Rochfort)

What’s inside the EXPLORE Act?

Advocates of the EXPLORE Act helped create many bills that live inside the package. Some of the highlights include the following:

Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation (SOAR)

Special use permitting has been a pain in the neck for awhile now, creating a robust obstacle that many have to overcome to get outside for their first time. The SOAR Act wants to streamline the permit process for outdoor guides and outfitters so that they can more easily get folks outside without getting stuck in the red tape.

Biking on Long Distance Trails Act (BOLT)

As a mountain biker myself, the BOLT Act is a personal favorite. The end goal is simple: more long-distance mountain biking trails. If passed, the BOLT Act will guide land management agencies to identify and create a number of long-distance bike trails, making the sport more accessible to people across the country. The International Mountain Bicycling Association has been a long-time supporter, and you can read their thoughts here.

Protecting America’s Rock Climbing Act (PARC)

Wilderness areas are incredibly important to rock climbers. Some of the country’s most famed climbing destinations — El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, The Diamond on Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park or Linville Gorge in North Carolina — are all in wilderness areas. Climbers in these regions have long relied on the legal placement and use of bolts and other fixed anchors to allow them to climb safely.

But, there is growing concern that the National Park Service (NPS) will remove these anchors, especially since the NPS has already proposed a ban on these anchors in California and Colorado. If the EXPLORE Act passes, it will protect hundreds of climbing routes across the country.

Paddling in Glacier National Park
Soaking in the sunset at Glacier National Park (PC: Heather Balogh Rochfort)

Permanency for Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership (ORLP)

We can all agree: we need this. ORLP provides funding for green spaces in urban areas, giving especial priority to communities in disadvantaged areas or without other access to outdoor spaces. The data is clear: access to the great outdoors is good for our health, but not everyone lives in a region where green space is a given.

If the EXPLORE Act goes through, ORLP will become a permanent program, ensuring green space funding for the future.

Now, it’s your turn to speak up. Please encourage your lawmakers to green light the EXPLORE ACT by using the form on this link. It only takes a minute yet the positive benefits will last a lifetime.


Seen in: National Parks, News

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