Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (ORR) leaders met with U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Steven Censky to discuss the essential role played by the Department – notably the USDA Forest Service – in providing diverse and high-quality outdoor recreation opportunities and growing the outdoor recreation economy, especially in rural communities. The Forest Service provides a wide range of developed-site and dispersed recreation on 193 million acres of forests and grasslands and was described as vital to the health of the outdoor recreation industry by ORR Chairman Thom Dammrich, the President of the National Marine Industry Association. ORR Vice Chairman Frank Hugelmeyer, President of the RV Industry Association, reminded the Deputy Secretary that outdoor recreation comprised 2% of the nation’s GDP and was the nation’s 15th largest industry.
The recreation industry representatives discussed increasing the use of public-private partnerships to support outdoor recreation, including the modernizing and expanding of recreation facilities, improving trails and expanding connectivity. The leaders noted these efforts would help advance Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s pursuit of rural prosperity. The Deputy Secretary noted the Department’s role as “lucky trustees of some of the most special places in the country.” He and other senior USDA officials including Acting Deputy Under Secretary Daniel J. Jiron cheered the role of partnerships including with recreation businesses and clubs and called for the modernization of national forest campgrounds. “You are important partners,” the Deputy Secretary said, “and we want you to be even more important partners.”
The group encouraged the Department to showcase and expand its key recreation-related successes like the revamped www.recreation.gov, facilitation of year-round recreation at ski resorts operating on national forests, use of innovative financial strategies, and more. The Deputy Secretary urged the recreation industry to help his department “better understand today’s and tomorrow’s recreation visitors to the national forests.” ORR and USDA agreed to regularly discuss opportunities for collaborative efforts.
Other key topics covered during the discussion included: controlling wildfire costs to protect the Forest Service’s broad stewardship mission; utilizing pilot projects to cut through red tape and promote innovation; and developing a new recreation strategy for the agency.
- Ed Klim of the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association told USDA that national forests hosted 100,000 miles of public snowmobile trails – out of a national total of 200,000 – virtually all maintained by volunteers and state programs.
- Glenn Hughes of the American Sportfishing Association labeled fishing in national forests world-class and praised Forest Service efforts to increase participation in the sport.
- Phil Ingrassia of the RV Dealers Association noted the department’s receptivity to new recreation opportunities including ebikes and applauded actions in the Mendocino National Forest to avoid recreation closures due to budget problems by inviting an innovative partnership with the private sector.
- Margaret Bailey of CHM Government Services described opportunities to overcome limits on private investments which could convert dated Forest Service campgrounds into national forest gateways attracting more urban Americans.
- Tim Buche of the Motorcycle Industry Council lauded USDA leadership on recreation, cited the planned mountain biking trail system in the Wayne National Forest and urged the department to communicate more widely its initiatives.
- Mary Ellen Sprenkel of The Corps Network called the Forest Service the leader in aiding young veterans to transition into natural resource jobs and invited the Deputy Secretary and the Secretary to visit the many sites where 25,000 youth and young adults are working on public lands.
- Dan Forster of the Archery Trade Association invited the Secretary to be interviewed by key recreation publications and called for the department to work with the recreation industry to expand opportunities for youth to connect school-based learning to national forest fun.
- ORR President Derrick Crandall noted the slogan used by national forests as the “nation’s playgrounds” and that outdoor recreation was the top contributor by the agency to national GDP.
The USDA meeting was to include USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, former Governor of Georgia and personally active in achieving a “wildfire fix” this spring which should allow the Forest Service to curtail its borrowing of recreation funds to fight fires and return to a more robust recreation mission. The Secretary’s participation was precluded by his participation in a White House event announcing tariff-related assistance to the nation’s farmers. Secretary Perdue did join the recreation leaders briefly at the end of the meeting.
The USDA/ORR meeting followed the summer meeting of the ORR Board of Directors. For more information on ORR, visit www.recreationroundtable.org.