Members of the recreation community are upbeat about the strength of public support for federal recreation programs but also concerned about the effects of possible budget cuts. According to a report in RV Executive Today Online, they plan to lobby Congress to reauthorize the law allowing fees to be collected on federal recreational lands, and they’ll also push for creation of an international version of the America the Beautiful Pass to generate additional revenue.
These were some of the major issues discussed at this year’s Partners Outdoors, an annual gathering of recreation-related public and private organizations. Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) Director of Legal & Regulatory Affairs Brett Richardson represented the association. The event was sponsored by the American Recreation Coalition (ARC), which RVDA supports, and drew more than 100 participants.
Partners Outdoors attendees were buoyed by recent surveys showing both public and Congressional support for the nation’s parks, and by a report from the Outdoor Industry Association showing that Americans spend $646 billion annually on outdoor recreation, supporting 6.1 million jobs and generating $80 billion in tax revenue.
Three topics were considered during the conference: securing dependable funding for recreation programs on federal lands, increasing the number of international visitors to America’s outdoors, and using federal transportation programs to aid recreation. Participants agreed that reauthorization of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA), which expires in December 2014, is of fundamental concern to all national recreation interests. FLREA has enabled federal agencies to collect more than $300 million annually in fees.
Other recommendations that Partners Outdoors will take to the feds include an international park pass that would raise revenues and enhance foreign visitors’ experience in U.S. parks, and expansion of concessionaires and permitees. Congress has already signaled its support for the latter idea by allowing year-long service in U.S. Forest Service ski areas.
In addition, conference attendees agreed that federal recreation agencies should build alliances with the Department of Defense and investigate whether military engineers could help with deferred maintenance on public lands. Internet access on federal lands also needs to be improved.
USDA Under Secretary Harris Sherman challenged Partners Outdoors participants to reject the status quo and not accept federal budget cuts that could harm federal recreational lands. He reported on several innovative partnerships between the Forest Service, utilities, and major corporations.
Partners Outdoors participants included the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board, the Office of Management and Budget, the National Association of State Park Directors, leadership from six federal agencies, and representatives from recreation businesses and non-profits.
Yosemite National Park saw near-record numbers of visitors in 2011, but those people didn’t stick around.
USA Today reported that even as visitation has been up at the iconic California park and across the U.S. national park system, time spent per visit in the parks has dropped — declining nearly 15% systemwide over the past two decades.
In places such as Yosemite, the drop-off is much greater. Park spokesman Scott Gediman said fewer people are making the park a destination for a week-long camping trip, instead choosing to cruise through the Valley seeing a few main sites for a few hours before heading elsewhere.
“The way the visitors are seeing the parks is totally changing,” he said. “We’ll see 70-80 buses come through, and maybe one or two of them are spending the night. More and more, people are not just coming here, they’re going to other parks and places as well. We’re finding that vacations themselves have changed.”
The National Park Service trend bucks statistics showing that Americans are increasingly spending more time and money on outdoor recreation, said Avery Stonich, communications manager for the Outdoor Industry Association. Over the past five years, spending on outdoor recreation has increased by 5% annually, according to analysis by her organization.
“People are still making outdoor recreation a priority in their lives,” Stonich said. “While they aren’t going to the national parks, they certainly are spending more time outdoors.”
To read the entire article in USA Today click here.