Over the past year and a half, as COVID-19 clarified the value of time outside for physical and mental health and connecting with community, Americans have turned to the outdoors like never before — boating, camping, ATVing, hiking, hunting, biking, fishing, RVing, paddling and so much more. Last year, for the first-time in decades, hunting and fishing license sales increased from the year before and over half of Americans participated in outdoor recreation activities. Sixty-five percent of Americans polled are still looking for safe outdoor recreation experiences to spend their time. These record-setting gear, equipment, vehicle, license sales and participation trends look to continue for years to come. 

Americans’ connection to the great outdoors isn’t just healthy for people and their communities, it creates healthy economies. Before being impacted by the pandemic, outdoor recreation made up 2.2 percent of U.S. GDP, contributed over $788 billion to the nation’s economy and employed 5.2 million Americans. At the state and local level, outdoor recreation-based economies have seen some of the most rapid recovery from the pandemic, as outdoor amenities and the communities that support them have been in high demand from visitors and locals alike. With the newfound prioritization of time spent outside and the recreation economy’s positive impacts in every corner of the country not dissipating anytime soon, improving recreation management, access and infrastructure is no longer a nice to have, but a must have. This is why outdoor recreation businesses, associations, conservation groups and enthusiasts are calling on Congress to pass a first-of-its-kind Recreation Package. 

Through a combination of bipartisan and bicameral bills the outdoor recreation industry has long supported — including the Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation (SOAR) Act, Recreation Not Red Tape Act (RNR), and the Ski Hill Resources for Economic Development (SHRED) Act– as well as other outdoor recreation legislation like the newly introduced Outdoor Recreation Act, this package would be a legacy achievement for our shared natural resources and all who enjoy them today and in the future. 

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These bills streamline the permitting process for outfitted excursions, support “gateway” communities, create public/private partnerships to modernize campground infrastructure, extend shoulder seasons and improve visitation data on public lands to help with overcrowding, make common-sense updates to antiquated systems, and provide more tools in the toolbox for land managers to plan for sustainable recreation for years to come.

These administrative and management improvements will not just improve recreationists’ experiences on our public lands and waters, they will also support sustainable recreation economies and help mitigate the impacts COVID-19 and climate change have on businesses, our resources, and outdoor enthusiasts. These improvements will make recreation more accessible for everyone, especially those getting outside for the first time. The best part is that these provisions are bipartisan, bicameral, and come at no increased cost to taxpayers.

This past year, the outdoors served as a place of retreat and reprieve. The outdoor economy remained resilient but is facing challenges too big for current management systems. It is time for our industry, bigger than agriculture and extractive sectors, to have dedicated legislation to ensure everyone who wants to enjoy the benefits of time outdoors can do so, and to ensure our industry can get fully back to doing what we do best — support healthy people, places, and economies.

We urge all members of Congress to continue their bipartisan support for our outdoor great outdoor heritage by supporting a recreation package this session.  

Jessica Turner is executive director of Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (ORR). ORR is the leading national recreation coalition with 33-member associations serving over 110,000 businesses.