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Outdoors Conference Draws Top Rec Leaders

American Recreation Coalition President Derrick Crandall (right) meets with Col. Thomas Kula, Division Commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, left, welcomed the Honorable Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of the Army, Civil Works, and American Recreation Coalition President Derrick Crandall

American Recreation Coalition President Derrick Crandall (right) meets with Col. Thomas Kula, Division Commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army, Civil Works.

Editor’s Note: The following news release came from the American Recreation Coalition, which took part in the Partners Outdoors conference held at the Gaylord Texan and on Lake Grapevine in Grapevine, Texas.

More than 100 creative recreation industry and federal agency leaders participated in Partners Outdoors 2011 late last month. The dual themes were Health and the Great Outdoors and Getting More Americans into Their Great Outdoors. Organizations represented are centrally involved in efforts to link Americans to the outdoors.

Participants studied key public and private efforts underway to connect people to the outdoors at the national, state and local levels, including the Obama administration’s new America’s Great Outdoors initiative. Discussions built on the groundbreaking dialogue at last year’s Partners Outdoors meeting between the healthcare and recreation communities, with medical doctors and others sharing ideas and experiences.

There is growing agreement that real promise exists for improving the health of the American people through recreation, including redirecting focus from traditional spending on drugs and surgery to investments in recreation facilities and opportunities.

The group toured the Vineyards Campground, Grapevine, host city for Partners Outdoors 2011, to learn about creative public-private partnerships and outdoor-focused operations within a major urban area. The city of Grapevine, in North Texas 25 minutes north of the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, has leased 770 acres of land from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for its recreational program. All revenue generated on the leased lands goes into an enterprise fund and is used for park maintenance and improvements on site.

The Grapevine Parks and Recreation Department has been able to greatly enhance its recreation offerings, including numerous new hiking and biking routes, fishing, boating and kayaking on two recreational lakes, two marinas, international facilities (Silver Lake and Twin Coves), fully-furnished cabins and pull-through RV facilities. The Corps of Engineers plans to use Grapevine as an example of a successful water resource partnership.

Session topics included: The Future of Recreation; America’s Great Outdoors Initiative: Where We’ve Been, Where We Are, and Where We’re Going; Partners Working to Keep Americans Fishing and Boating in the Great Outdoors; Getting Americans Back Outdoors; Health People, Healthy Places: Building the Link; Opportunities for Partnerships Promoting Active Lifestyles in the 21st Century; Education and the Outdoors; Making Great Outdoors Month a Vehicle for Action; and People and the Great Outdoors: The Challenges and the Opportunities.

On Sunday, Jan. 23, Partners Outdoors attendees were welcomed by Col. Thomas Kula, Division Commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). He noted the Corps’ support for Partners Outdoors and said the USACE appreciated the opportunity to collaborate on efforts “to get people outdoors.”

He introduced the Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army, Civil Works. She noted that the U.S. Corps of Engineers is the nation’s largest provider of outdoors recreation, managing 12 million acres of lands and waters and attracting nearly 400 million visits annually. Eighty percent of the Corps recreation projects are within 50 miles of major metropolitan areas,  Darcy said, and the Corps seeks partnerships with state and local governments, Native American tribes and with private and public groups.

She spoke about the Let’s Move! Initiative and the Value to the Nation study which demonstrates how the Corp impacts Americans and our economy. She noted www.recreation.gov is the most visited section of the BLM website and introduced Heather Burke, the new National Advisor for Partnerships for USACE.

Texas A&M University Professor on the Future of Recreation

Keynote speaker, Texas A&M University Distinguished Professor John Crompton, spoke about the Future of Recreation. He emphasized the interconnection between travel and parks, and how parks serve as “economic engines.” He said recreation meets basic human needs but warned that people who do not use park and recreation services are less likely to value them and, if not valued, they are less likely to be supported.

He challenged the group to see recreation through a “transformational lens,” repositioning recreation and park services so that they are perceived to be a central contribution to alleviating the major community problems identified by taxpayers and decision-makers. He cited reduced health care costs, less juvenile crime, more community cohesion, higher property values and economic development as some of the contributions of recreation.

The “big idea” associated with repositioning is that funds are invested in solutions to a community’s most pressing problems. He cited Mustang Island State Park as an example of an economic engine. It had an operating loss of $52,000 but generated 47 jobs and more than $1.4 million in income to Nueces County residents. Thus the cost to the state is $1,100 per job, a leverage ratio of 1:27. Each net state dollar invested generates $27 of income for local residents.

He concluded by saying economic success depends on what happens inside a facility and made the analogy to a retail store. Investment in services and amenities means more visitors, more per capita expenditures, and thus more jobs and income to local residents

Organizations centrally involved in efforts to link Americans to the outdoors participated:

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