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Guides Are Portals to the Outdoor World—Let’s Give Them the Support They Need

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Approaching Dreamweaver in Rocky Mountain National Park; Photo by Avery Stonich

Think back to how you started on your path to adventure. Do you remember someone who took you under his or her wing and showed you the way? The seeds of your most treasured outdoor experiences probably germinated with the help of some sort of mentor—perhaps an outfitter or guide.

I’m fresh on the heels of a thrilling guided adventure. Last weekend my husband and I climbed Mount Meeker via Dreamweaver—a ribbon of a couloir that becomes increasingly steep and choked as it weaves its way up this 13,900-foot peak in Rocky Mountain National Park.

It was a transformative experience. Over the course of 12+ hours, 4,500 vertical feet, and countless miles, we pushed our mental and physical limits, climbed something harder and steeper than we thought we could, and felt ourselves emerge from a cocoon—accessing a new world that we thought was beyond reach because of our lack of knowledge and technical skill, not to mention a bit of trepidation and fear.

Until now, couloirs have seemed tantalizing yet inaccessible. They beckon—like the fingers of God reaching down and inviting us to venture into a mountain’s veins and explore its secrets.

We never could have attempted the Dreamweaver climb without someone to show us the ropes—literally and figuratively. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to explore this new frontier and develop skills under the tutelage of a guide who’s willing to share his passion for adventure.

Outdoor guides serve as portals to the outdoors, playing a critical role in introducing people to outdoor recreation and the importance of protecting natural resources. And since they often spend more time in the field than land managers, guides serve as eyes and ears for cash-strapped public land agencies.

Under-funded public land agencies are challenged to help guiding businesses operate—a critical point that emerged from a recent congressional hearing on impediments to public recreation on public lands. At the hearing, outfitters and guides from diverse organizations—including the National Outdoor Leadership School, Western River Expeditions, Nantahala Outdoor Center and others—testified that changing regulations, dwindling federal funding for public lands, increasing permit fees and daunting insurance requirements are spiraling operating costs out of control and making it difficult for guiding operations to stay afloat. A tangled web of federal bureaucracy, they argued, is creating unnecessary barriers to getting people outside, which—in the long run—threatens the future of outdoor recreation and the economies that depend on it.

More than 140 million Americans get outside each year, pumping $646 billion into our nation’s economy and supporting 6.1 million American jobs. When people play outside, their spending goes right back into the economy. Outdoor recreation supports diverse, sustainable jobs—not just in guiding, but in technology, product design, manufacturing, sustainability, retail, global commerce, public land management and more.

As Outdoor Industry Association Board Member and CEO of Nantahala Outdoor Center Sutton Bacon stated in his testimony, “Our nation’s public lands and waterways offer a pathway for economic prosperity.”

In a recent interview with National Geographic Adventure, Everest pioneer and guide Jim Whittaker said that we need to “get the bastards outside” by educating them and sharing the value of being connected to nature. I couldn’t agree more.

Outdoor recreation cultivates stewards of the land. When people experience the wonder of the natural world first-hand, their eyes open to the importance of protecting our natural landscapes—for their intrinsic values as well as their value to our economy.

The federal hearing that took place is evidence that outdoor recreation is becoming a prominent part of the conversation in Washington, D.C. Our nation’s leaders are starting to recognize the true value of outdoor recreation. It’s great that federal policymakers invited guide representatives to provide input into important policy decisions that will affect their businesses. We should all work together keep outdoor recreation appealing and accessible to everyone. Let’s keep the collaboration going.

Encourage your members of Congress to promote recreation access on public lands, allow guiding operations and other outdoor businesses to thrive, and fully fund our public lands so they can continue to produce dividends for the benefit of current and future generations of Americans. Our well-being depends on it.

Avery Stonich is director of communications for Outdoor Industry Association. Follow us on Twitter: @OIA and @averystonich.