The EXPLORE Act aims to revolutionize recreation, conservation and public lands management

The bill proposes several initiatives to expand public land access and conservation

New recently introduced legislation backed by bipartisan support aims to improve recreational access on U.S. federal lands and waters.

Chair Bruce Westerman (R-AR) introduced the “Expanding Public Lands Outdoor Recreation Experiences (EXPLORE) Act” (H.R. 6492) on Nov. 29, 2023, with support from representatives including Ranking Member Raúl Grijalva (Raza Unida Party-AZ). The legislation aims to expand public land access by streamlining permitting processes, enhancing outdoor recreation infrastructure, and fostering collaborative land management between agencies and communities.

“Recreation in our great natural spaces is invaluable to our physical and mental health and spiritual well-being. Like our members and me, millions venture into national forests, grasslands and public waterways for ethically harvested, organic protein through hunting and fishing,” said Jason Burckhalter, the co-CEO, National of the Wild Turkey Federation, in a press release. “The EXPLORE Act opens opportunities and provides infrastructure to support these and other recreational users and is vital to ensuring access to people of all walks of life who want to enjoy what nature has to offer.” 

Various conservation organizations and federal agencies actively support the bill, recognizing its potential to promote sustainable, and easily accessible, outdoor recreation experiences.

The proposed EXPLORE Act seeks to modernize the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA), last updated in 2005, which governs recreational access on federal lands. One of the standout features of the proposed legislation is its push for digitalization and modernization. The EXPLORE Act aims to create a digital version of the “America the Beautiful” pass, making it easier for outdoor enthusiasts to obtain passes for federal land access and pay fees online.

The act also includes plans for assessing trail accessibility, increasing parking opportunities, installing broadband internet in national parks, offering free access to military personnel and veterans, and boosting visits and youth engagement. This initiative comes at a crucial time of growing demand for outdoor recreation experiences on federal lands and waters.

In addition, the EXPLORE Act aims to enhance outdoor recreation and infrastructure by conducting assessments of federal recreational resources, establishing an interagency council for outdoor recreation, and developing the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership Program, which would enable the Secretary to award grants for projects such as acquiring land for parks and outdoor recreation purposes, renovating existing facilities, and providing recreation opportunities in low-income communities.

Following its passage by the House Committee on Natural Resources, the EXPLORE Act has entered a phase of review and consideration. Most recently, on Jan. 24, 2024, it was referred to two subcommittees within the Committee on Agriculture: The Subcommittee on Forestry and the Subcommittee on Commodity Markets, Digital Assets and Rural Development.

Header Image: A hiking trail at Clinton Gulch Dam Reservoir in Summit County, Colorado. Credit: Jeffrey Beall