By Frank Hugelmeyer and Thomas Dammrich
UNITED STATES — With fall upon us, millions of Americans will head to America’s iconic public lands and waters to soak up what’s left of warmer weather and get a glimpse of fall’s renowned foliage.
Ensuring Americans’ ability to enjoy our country’s outdoor spaces is big business and critical to the $887 billion outdoor recreation industry. Given their significant role in providing healthy, outdoor recreation for Americans and the millions of jobs and thousands of small businesses they support, it’s time our national parks, waterways and other public outdoor spaces get the attention they deserve.
In recent months, the decision by the Trump Administration to review the size of 27 National Monuments has spurred an important debate. Yet, there is a much greater threat to the nation’s recreation economy looming than monument borders and it is an issue that receives little to no attention. Improvements to our outdated recreation infrastructure have gone largely unaddressed by both political parties for decades, no matter who lives in the White House or is in the majority on Capitol Hill.
It is time for that to change.
The good news is Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is trying something different. He has laid out a course of action that addresses the nearly $20 billion maintenance backlog crippling many of our outdoor spaces and emphasizes the need to modernize services, lodging, marinas and campgrounds. His proposal invites Americans to fully utilize their public outdoor spaces and leverage proven public-private partnerships.
Zinke’s plan is clearly not an attempt to privatize public lands and waterways as some opponents have falsely claimed. Quite the opposite in fact, this is a modernization effort that aims to create the world class experiences visitors now expect, including practical elements such as providing for greater guest amenities and basic Wi-Fi.
The secretary recognizes that federal public land budgets and management practices no longer keep pace with rising expectations, as digital-age visitors demand more services, connectivity and access. To that end, he has led wide-ranging discussions designed to identify new sources of funding and innovative partnerships that will provide more opportunities for all Americans to enjoy the great outdoors.
We applaud Zinke for tapping into the unrivaled know-how of outdoor recreation executives by creating the Recreation Advisory Committee, a leadership forum dedicated to examining how public-private partnerships can expand access and improve infrastructure. Public-private partnerships are a well-established solution (think ski areas, marinas and gateway campgrounds) that can harness the expertise and investment of the private sector and, under Zinke and bi-partisan congressional leadership, achieve the upgrades desperately needed by outdoor enthusiasts across the country.
Other administrations have tried-and failed-to address the growing need for more access, modern infrastructure and basic maintenance. Continuing to put off the investment needed to bring all facilities and infrastructure up to code and to prepare public assets for the next generation of visitors is a recipe for more failure. That’s why we support Zinke’s innovative approach for tackling these issues.
The outdoor recreation industry will work with any administration or policymaker that proposes reasonable solutions to the threats we all face from political stalemate. America’s iconic public lands and waters, along with their significant economic and quality of life benefits, are too important to be held hostage by partisan politics. Whether you hunt, fish, camp, boat, paddle, RV, off-road, hike or bike, spending time in the outdoors is an American pastime that Zinke’s plan can help protect.
Frank Hugelmeyer is president of the RV Industry Association and former president and CEO of Outdoor Industry Association. Thomas Dammrich is president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
Source: RV Industry Association press release