Partners Outdoors ID’s Route to Healthy Rec.
An annual gathering of leading recreation innovators from the public and private sectors concluded three days of brainstorming and sharing with a report on findings, actions and recommendations to the members of the Federal Interagency Council on Outdoor Recreation (FICOR).
The event, known as Partners Outdoors 2013, was held at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, W. Va.
According to a news release from the American Recreation Coalition (ARC), discussions were especially intense as the group sought ways to add quality and quantity to recreation opportunities on federally managed lands and waters even as the agencies and organizations involved were engaged in planning contingencies for sequestration and years of federal agency budget uncertainty.
Participants in Partners Outdoors were decidedly upbeat, buoyed by strong economic and political evidence of public support for federal recreation programs. Recent surveys show remarkable bipartisan support for parks and other recreation sites and the economic importance of outdoor recreation has been freshly established at more than $600 billion per annum, significant nationally as well as in hundreds of communities across the nation.
Three topics were considered during the session:
- Securing dependable funding for recreation programs on federal lands.
- Hosting international visitors to America’s Great Outdoors successfully.
- Using federal transportation programs effectively to aid recreation.
Partners Outdoors opened with a challenge from USDA Under Secretary Harris Sherman not to accept the status quo and current federal budget directions.
He described a series of innovative partnerships involving the Forest Service, utilities and major corporations that are advancing forest health, and noted that the recreation community has begun to outline similar “big picture” ideas. The Under Secretary spoke to the group from his office in Washington, D.C., by video-conference, noting that he had offered to be at the meeting in person but had agreed with the program organizers that this was an opportunity to demonstrate technologies for connecting participants “virtually” as federal agencies face constraints on travel and meetings.
Partners Outdoors relied on other video capabilities to enhance presentations, including the concluding session with FICOR. In addition, participants received flash drives with background information and links, replacing traditional hand-outs.
Participants in Partners Outdoors included the Chairman of the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board, Todd Davidson of Travel Oregon; and the Vice President of the National Association of State Park Directors, North Carolina State Park Director Lewis Ledford. Senior leadership of six federal agencies also participated, joined by leaders of recreation businesses and key nonprofits. The group received invaluable insights from a senior official of the Office of Management and Budget, who explained the unusual and stressful overlapping of FY 2013 and FY 2014 budget decisions with the sequestration process.
A full report detailing actions and recommendations and a blog, which will include videos of general sessions, will be available soon. Among the key conclusions were:
1) the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, expiring in December 2014, is of fundamental concern to all national recreation interests. It authorizes the collection and retention of more than $300 million in fees annually. Its expiration would have major, negative consequences.
2) an international version of the America the Beautiful Pass could both generate needed revenues and add to the quality of visitor experiences.
3) federal recreation agencies need to strengthen alliances with the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, capitalizing on the Warriors in Transition program, cooperating in using military unit engineering and construction proficiency efforts to overcome federal lands’ deferred maintenance challenges and more.
4) significant gains in visitor experiences and agency revenues can arise from expansion of appropriate services by concessioners and permittees. Congressional support of this concept is clear from the recent Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act of 2011, which facilitates year-round recreation opportunities at Forest Service-permitted ski areas. Low-hanging fruit in this arena include expanded hours of operation at popular sites like Alcatraz and the Statue of Liberty and longer operating seasons at key national park lodges.
5) accessing the internet from federal lands and improving and linking websites with information about recreation on federally managed lands and waters are very high priorities.
6) transportation is a vital concern of recreation interests – ranging from constructing and maintaining roads and trails to allowing easier access to the Great Outdoors.
For more information on Partners Outdoors 2013, contact Catherine Ahern at