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Yosemite at night; Photograph by Randy Le'Moine Photography, flickr

The Future of the Outdoor Industry

The outdoor industry is laying the groundwork for something huge. And it’s all because we want to make sure you have great places to get outside, explore, and pursue adventure. Because that’s what makes our hearts sing.

Let me explain.

Picture a huge corporation that has an absolutely enormous portfolio of incredibly valuable assets, a vast customer base, and a product that improves the health and quality of life of anyone who tries it. What if I told you that this company operates without anyone overseeing it all, without adequate financial resources, and without good collaboration among departments? Sounds a little far-fetched, huh?

This is the reality when it comes to outdoor recreation resources in the United States. Think about it. Our country has a veritable kaleidoscope of outdoor recreation assets—from the backyard to the backcountry. Local rivers and parks, bicycle trails, state parks, national parks, national forests, wetlands, high deserts and canyons, wild and scenic waters, greenways … the list goes on and on. But for the most part, public land agencies operate independently and with limited funding, which threatens their ability to manage the recreation resources under their watch.

It wasn’t always this way. Nearly 50 years ago, the federal government established a Bureau of Outdoor Recreation in order to create outdoor recreation opportunities in communities across the country. What a concept! At the same time, Congress approved the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the Wilderness Act, the National Trails Act, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and the Clean Water Act—among other important legislation to protect and conserve our natural resources. Too bad this commitment didn’t stick.

The harsh reality is that since 1980, federal funding for recreation access and conservation of America’s public lands and waters has declined by more than 50 percent. And the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation was eliminated in 1981. From our perspective, this stings a bit.

Not to mention, it sort of runs contrary to the reality that outdoor recreation contributes $646 billion annually to the U.S. economy and supports 6.1 million jobs. Since the 1960s, the outdoor industry has grown into an economic powerhouse, relying on the public lands legacy of the 1960s and early 1970s. If the outdoor industry has managed to grow, despite waning federal funding and commitment to outdoor places and outdoor recreation, it kind of makes you wonder how huge outdoor recreation would be if the outdoor industry and government worked together to promote it.

As the political voice for the outdoor industry, Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) is working hard to convince our nation’s leaders that it’s time to start prioritizing the management of our outdoor recreation resources. Why? Because they bring significant economic benefits and long-lasting jobs to communities throughout the country.

So we have a vision. A big vision.

We’re seeking a presidential executive order that acknowledges that America has a national outdoor recreation system comprised of the diverse network of federal, state, and local public lands in this country. We also want a director designated to oversee it. This will allow more coordinated management of outdoor recreation, which—in turn—would enable the United States to fully harness the benefits of our outstanding recreation resources and ensure they can continue sustain economic dividends for years to come. Such a step is just good government, plain and simple.

It helps to have outdoor recreation allies in Washington, D.C. Former REI CEO Sally Jewell recently became Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, where she already has made it clear that she intends to emphasize getting more youth outdoors and providing more outdoor recreation opportunities in urban areas. We’re working to demonstrate how recognizing America’s national outdoor recreation system can play a huge part in this.

In April, outdoor industry leaders descended on Washington, D.C., to meet with congressional leaders, Secretary Jewell, and other senior administration officials to discuss the future of outdoor recreation and the outdoor industry. In addition, OIA has a D.C.-based government affairs team that pounds the pavement day after day, making the case for outdoor recreation with government leaders. This is an important dialogue—one we will continue so we can help shape the policies that will affect your opportunities to get outside and play for years to come.

I can wax poetic about the beauty of a bluebird sky, the thrill of a mountain climb, or the value of introducing your kids to nature. But when it comes right down to it, there would be nowhere to go enjoy these experiences without the amazing network of public lands in this country.

The outdoor industry knows this. We know that we have a responsibility to help protect and enhance the outdoor recreation experiences in this country. Obviously it’s good for business. But it’s also good for our souls.

So keep this in mind: When you buy outdoor gear, you’re supporting a bigger engine than just a retailer or manufacturer. You’re contributing to an industry that is working to create a better future for you, and your kids, and their kids, and their kids.

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