Originally published on The Hill.
With the summer season upon us, tens of millions of Americans will soon hit the road to take advantage of one of our most valuable resources—America’s great outdoors. While the beauty of our lands and waterways is unrivaled, Americans arriving at our national parks this summer will once again find outdated infrastructure that impairs their ability to fully enjoy the experience. Fortunately, our leaders are finally hearing the call to address the massive backlog of upgrades needed to bring public lands into the 21st century.
These calls come at a time when unprecedented numbers of Americans are taking advantage of America’s public lands and waterways to experience the myriad benefits the great outdoors provides. With this increased participation, we must do everything we can to invest in our national treasures so they can provide the greatest experience possible and meet the needs of the nation’s outdoor enthusiasts. This includes everything from upgrading campgrounds, boat ramps and lodging facilities to integrating modern technological tools that allow for an enhanced and safer visit to our lands. Doing so will not only create a better experience, but it will help boost an already thriving outdoor recreation economy that is now formally recognized by the government.
In February, the Bureau of Economic Analysis—the government body responsible for evaluating America’s GDP—included the outdoor recreation economy in its calculations for the first time. The results were stunning. The report found that outdoor recreation makes up 2 percent of the nation’s GDP, which surpasses other top industries like agriculture, petroleum and coal products manufacturing, and computer and electronics manufacturing. The report also found that the industry has a gross national output of $673 billion and is growing at a faster pace than the overall U.S. economy. With so much at stake for our economy, the outdoor recreation industry joined together in an urgent call for action by our leaders, and there is evidence that our message is now being heard loud and clear.
Just weeks ago, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced two new initiatives that will make outdoor recreation a national priority for the federal government for years to come. The first designates a senior-level official at the Interior Department to oversee outdoor recreation and ensure the needs of America’s outdoor recreation enthusiasts are being met. The second requires all major offices within the Department to draft plans for developing new outdoor recreation opportunities and expanding the opportunities that already exist. These initiatives come on the heels of the Interior Department’s announcement of a new outdoor recreation advisory committee, which will provide the secretary diverse viewpoints on steps that can be taken to improve outdoor recreation in the United States. These moves demonstrate the voices of America’s outdoor recreation industry are no longer being ignored and that positive changes are on the way.
These new initiatives are also a milestone in the quest for recreation leaders to gain a seat at the table as decisions are made about the future of outdoor recreation in the United States. Our industry has recently joined together in a collaborative effort known as the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable to advocate for policies like those announced by Secretary Zinke that will expand recreation in the United States and enhance the visitor experience. We seek to achieve these goals by making commonsense investments in our public lands and waters that will improve infrastructure—such as campgrounds and lodging facilities—and by supporting balanced policies that conserve federal lands and waterways so that they can be accessed and enjoyed today and by future generations of Americans.
America’s outdoor recreation enthusiasts deserve the best when they visit the nation’s public lands and waters. While much work remains to bring our public infrastructure into a state of good repair, we are now on the right path. Maintaining this progress will require bipartisan solutions and the full attention of the federal government, regardless of which party controls Congress and the White House. Together, we all must remain committed to keeping America’s great outdoors a national priority so that today’s American families can enjoy the same benefits from the great outdoors as generations did before them.