How Interior is Increasing Access to Public Lands


Public lands are for everyone. Across the more than 450 million acres of land managed by Interior, the opportunities for recreation, education and connection are limitless. Every day, someone new is introduced to nature at a national park, wildlife refuge or wilderness area and becomes a lifelong advocate for America’s great outdoors. Everyday, someone experiences a cultural revelation or historical insight through the power of Interior’s storytellers. Everyday, families and friends gather to make memories at some of the most beautiful places in the world.

For the last three years, Interior has made sustained efforts to increase the number of areas people can access and expand the variety of activities available to all. Working together, we are strengthening the bonds all Americans feel with the public lands they own.  

Finding Your New Favorite Climbing Route

Two people with climbing gear and ropes climb up a large red rock cliff.
Mountain climbing in Nevada. Photo by Bureau of Land Management.

A rock solid example of how Interior is making it easier for people to enjoy the great outdoors is the recent introduction of a series of interactive maps used to highlight some of the nation's highest quality climbing opportunities at recreational areas administered by the Bureau of Land Management. While the fear of heights keeps many of us on the ground, a passionate community of climbers find their next thrill on mountains, spires and boulder fields across the country. Working with that community, the BLM created a website to feature public lands with excellent climbing routes and information on how to protect them for future generations. We’re not going out on a ledge to tell you how awesome that is.

Ride into the Future

A park ranger on a bicycle leads a line of visitors riding bikes down a path through a forest.
Ride your bike with a ranger at Everglades National Park in Florida. Photo by National Park Service.

Public lands can be more easily explored on wheels, and we’re not talking about cars. E-bikes -- also known as pedal-assist bikes -- make bicycle travel easier and more efficient because they allow bicyclists to travel farther with less effort. This is especially true for those with physical limitations. In October of 2019, Secretary Bernhardt issued an order that directs Interior bureaus to begin the longer term process of obtaining public input on new regulations that will clarify that low-speed e-bikes should enjoy the same access as conventional bicycles, consistent with other federal and state laws. With these new rules, more people will be able to ride the trails and see the sights from behind their handlebars.

Getting Every Kid Outdoors

A large group of kids wave at the camera and stand with Secretary Bernhardt, First Lady Trump and some park rangers with a mountain range in the background.
Secretary Bernhardt and First Lady Trump with kids at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Photo by Tami Heilemann, Interior.

Do you remember your first camping trip? How about your first time in a national park? The connections we make as children influence who we are and what we value for the rest of our lives. By increasing access for kids to public lands, we can help foster the next generation of outdoor advocates and stewards of our country’s natural treasures. The main focus of Every Kid Outdoors is providing fourth graders with free access to explore, learn and recreate in spectacular settings, including national parks, wildlife refuges, marine sanctuaries and forests through a special annual pass. They can then use the pass to visit more than 2,000 federal recreation areas with their families, classmates and friends. 

A Focus on Hunting and Fishing

A young white man fishes in a still pond with a large mountain in the background.
A young man fishing in Colorado. Photo by Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management.

America’s public lands offer unparalleled opportunities for hunting and fishing, allowing families the chance to pass down our nation’s rich outdoor heritage. Conservation giants like Theodore Roosevelt and Aldo Leopold were both avid sportsmen, creating examples for how outdoor recreation can be balanced with protecting habitat and managing wildlife. Just in time for the 2019 hunting season, Secretary Bernhardt expanded the number of sites in the National Wildlife Refuge System where the public may hunt to 381 and the number where fishing is permitted to 316. In addition, the rule change formally opened lands and waters on 15 hatcheries of the National Fish Hatchery System to hunting and sport fishing for the first time. A total expansion of hunting and fishing opportunities on 1.7 million acres in the last three years included significant increases in fishing access to several rivers by the Bureau of Land Management and a variety of agreements protecting migration corridors for big game. Across Interior, rules related to hunting and fishing have been updated to align with state laws, easing confusion and encouraging participation in these traditional activities.

Discovering Hidden Chapters of History

A paint shows a crowd of people watching a woman sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
A close-up of Mitchell Jamieson's mural depicting Marian Anderson singing at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939. Photo by Interior.

Our history is broad and diverse. Sometimes in the telling of our national history, some events and people are overlooked. Interior is committed to telling a more complete story of who we are as a people and how we got where we are. The African American Civil Rights Network Act of 2017 was signed into law by President Donald J. Trump in January 2018, authorizing the National Park Service to commemorate, honor and interpret “the history of the African American Civil Rights movement; the significance of the civil rights movement as a crucial element in the evolution of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; and the relevance of the African American Civil Rights movement in fostering the spirit of social justice and national reconciliation.” Some of the newly designated sites may be familiar, while others shed light on a lesser known figure or event. Interior’s headquarters building in Washington, D.C. is home to a piece of the network. Mitchell Jamieson’s mural "An Incident in Contemporary American Life" captures the incredible moment when African American opera singer Marian Anderson gave a performance at the Lincoln Memorial for an integrated audience in 1939. Places and stories like this encourage a more diverse crowd to visit our nation’s historic places and get inspired by our past. 

New Lands for New Adventures

A white woman wearing a ball cap and a life preserver sits in a kayak and paddles across clear blue water with palm trees and a red lighthouse behind her on shore.
Kayaking by the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse in Florida. Photo by Bureau of Land Management.

More parks, monuments, refuges and recreational areas make it easier for ordinary Americans to get outdoors. Green River National Wildlife Refuge in Kentucky was established in November 2019 to help protect and manage wetlands and bottomland forest -- important habitat for a surprising variety of mammals, fish and birds. In October 2018, Camp Nelson National Monument in Kentucky was created so the National Park Service can tell the story of this key emancipation site and refugee camp for African American soldiers and their families during the Civil War. For people looking for their next public lands thrill, Interior approved the creation of the “Palisade Plunge,” a 32-mile single-track trail descending nearly 6,000 feet from the Grand Mesa to Palisade, Colorado. If you’re looking for something more relaxing, the Bureau of Land Management recently took over the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse, where visitors can explore the historic building and dip their toes in the warm waters of South Florida. We hope to see many public lands lovers enjoying these new sites in the near future.

Why We're the Department of Everything Else

A man with a backpack hikes through a narrow red rock canyon.
Hiking in the San Rafael Reef Wilderness, which was established by the John Dingell Conservation Recreation and Management Act of 2019. Photo by Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management.

Executing Acts of Congress is a big part of what Interior does. The John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act of 2019 was made up of more than 100 individual bills that were introduced by 50 Senators and several House members. Interior advocated for in concept or worked with Members of Congress on many of the individual provisions that made up the package. Some actions expanded recreational and educational  opportunities like allowing the Bureau of Land Management to manage public lands as target shooting ranges, reauthorization of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Historic Preservation Program and establishment of Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park.

Grants and Funding for Public Lands Projects

A man with a rifle slung over his shoulder stands on a cliff looking down into a valley with binoculars.
Hunting in Utah. Photo by Bureau of Land Management.

Due to increased revenue and a thriving economy, funding for conservation and recreation projects is going up. To date, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has distributed more than $21 billion in apportionments for state projects generated by the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration and Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration acts -- $3.2 billion in the last three years. The funds are derived from excise taxes paid by the hunting, shooting, boating and angling industries on firearms, bows and ammunition and sport fishing tackle, some boat engines and small engine fuel. Also, funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund was $170 million in 2019. Using zero taxpayer dollars, the fund invests earnings from offshore oil and gas leasing to help strengthen communities, preserve our history and protect our national endowment of lands and waters.

With short term gains and long term focus, Interior continues to fulfill our mission of conserving America’s great outdoors and ensuring that generations can enjoy our natural and cultural treasures.