Ivanka Trump, oldest daughter of President Donald Trump and a special adviser in his administration, came to Colorado Thursday to celebrate the final Congressional passage of the Great American Outdoors Act.
The brief celebration took place in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), with a backdrop of Long's Peak and Flattop Mountain behind her.
Trump was joined by Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, a native of Rifle who said he got married in Estes Park years ago.
The event was closed to the public, with most of those in attendance members of the National Park Service staff, including RMNP Superintendent Darla Sidles. The audience also included the mayor of Estes Park, Wendy Koenig and Mayor Pro Tem Jonah Landy of Grand Lake.
Not in attendance: anyone representing Colorado's congressional delegation, including Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Yuma, who sponsored the legislation that is headed to the president's desk. Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet was a co-sponsor for the legislation; Colorado's senior senator has introduced legislation to fully fund the LWCF in every Congress since 2010.
The U.S. House on Wednesday gave final approval to the Great American Outdoors Act, which includes $900 million annually for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Sidles said the legislation, in addition to its full funding of the LWCF, will provide up to $1.9 billion annually for the next five years for improvements and updates for national parks. That includes improved accessibility to park facilities, such as the Moraine Park Discovery Learning Center, where the Thursday event was held. Water and sewer systems will get much-needed infrastructure improvements, which will benefit visitors, Sidles said. Campgrounds, such as the one at Moraine Park, will get updated water and electrical systems, parking lots will be improved, the Alpine Visitors Center will be rehabilitated, and the park's 300 miles of trails also will be updated for better access.
"This is the greatest office in the world," Trump said of the park, and to Bernhardt she said he had a better office — the nation's national parks — than the president.
"At this time of tremendous national hardship and challenge, so many people suffering, having to social distance, there's never been a more important time to celebrate and value and cherish our national parks and our recreational facilities that are open to all and bring joy to tens of millions of people in any given year," Trump said.
"It is especially timely, in time of COVID, that we were able to sign the farthest-reaching conservation legislation that this nation has had since Theodore Roosevelt 100 years ago created the national park system. This legislation will ensure the viability of this incredible park system for the next 100 years plus," Trump said.
She said the president will sign the bill. "His advocacy was absolutely essential in getting the tracton behind the legislation and the momentum to get something of this size to get passed," she said. Trump also claimed that the president made one of Bernhardt's first tasks to "fix the national parks."
Bernhardt said Ivanka Trump played a key role in working with the president, members of the Senate and House and the Department of Interior to get the bill passed.
"Some of my earliest memories are traveling through this park," Bernhardt said. There probably hasn't been a day like today since September 3, 1964, when the LWCF was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson. Even though the concept of the fund was set up by 1987, federal agencies recognized that it needed a greater commitment from Congress than just authorization. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan received a report advocating for a fund with real money.
"Since that day, presidents have thought about it, come up with different concepts, and not a single one has figured out how to get it through Congress" until March of this year, when President Trump advocated for mandatory spending for the LWCF and the national park service. "It's a game-changer," Bernhardt said.
The LWCF is funded with money from offshore oil drilling tax revenue, and for years has suffered from a lack of funding as Congress has raided the accounts intended for the LWCF. Last year, Trump signed into law a bill that permanently reauthorizes the LWCF, with $484 million in funding, one of the largest budgets it's had in years.
However, his previous support for the LWCF has been tepid at best. His budgets have called for defunding the LWCF. Even as recently as February, less than a month before the Great Outdoors Act bill was introduced, Trump proposed slashing the LWCF to $14.7 million and a $581 million cut to the funding of the National Park Service for the upcoming fiscal year.
The backlog for maintenance at the national parks stood at nearly $12 billion in 2018.
After the remarks by Trump and Bernhardt, they took a hike around Bear Lake with the park staff, startling and/or surprising tourists from all over the country. They did not allow for questions from the news media.
Dr. Bsher Touleimat, visiting the park with friends and family from Chicago, said they ran into Trump on the lake trail. "She has the right to check it out," he said. "It was interesting to see a member of the First Family," added Karim Alsabek.
The Sullinger family from Prairie Village, Kansas — three girls and their mom and dad — knew Trump would be in the park Thursday but said they did not expect to see her. "It was surprising," said 10-year-old McKenna. Anna, age 8, said she thought it was cool, but her younger sister Brooke did not know who Trump was.
Trump's visit to the Centennial state continues Friday with a tour of a Denver-area childcare facility and a discussion regarding "the important need to reopen child care centers for working families and best practices to ensure a healthy and safe return for all children and workers," referencing pandemic-related facility closures.
Gardner will join her, along with U.S. Department of Labor Director Laurie Todd Smith; and Lynn Johnson, assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families, according to the statement.