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.
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:
- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: Col. Thomas Kula, Division Commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army, Civil Works, opened the meeting and Michael Ensch, chief of operations, Civil Works, was a keynote speaker.
- American Recreation Coalition: Derrick Crandall, president, addressed Opportunities Facing Partners Outdoors 2011.
- Texas A&M University: The keynote address focused on The Future of Recreation by John Crompton, distinguished professor, Department of Recreation, Park & Tourism Sciences.
- Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Will Shafroth spoke about America’s Great Outdoors Initiative: Where We’ve Been, Where We Are, and Where We’re Going.
- Bureau of Land Management: Robert Abbey, director of the BLM, spoke on People and the Great Outdoors: The Challenges and the Opportunities.
- Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation: Frank Peterson, president, discussed Partners Working to Keep Americans Fishing and Boating in the Great Outdoors.
- Prince William County Schools, Virginia: Steven Walts, superintendent, spoke on Education and the Outdoors and ED OUT.