Congress is so close to ensuring more people can enjoy the great outdoors

Congress is so close to ensuring more people can enjoy the great outdoors
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“Timid souls neither know victory nor defeat.” It is fitting that Teddy Roosevelt shared these words in his 1910 “Man-in-the-Arena” speech. It is quoted often, but I never tire of the words. Roosevelt was a bold leader who advocated for a uniquely American approach to protecting and caring for our beautiful and wild places, which he loved deeply.

It takes courage to act in a bipartisan manner in today’s political environment. Over the last few months, without headlines or the political spotlight, Republicans and Democrats in both chambers have advanced a range of bills through committee, spanning many of the most pressing priorities for recreation on public lands. They’ve worked in a transparent and bipartisan way that has produced better, more effective and widely supported results. Now’s the time to seize victory.

The love for our wild outdoor places transcends the blue and red positioning that characterizes our current reality. And leadership, courage and opportunity exist in Congress today to pass a historic outdoor recreation legislation before this Congress ends.

We are close to a permanent authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund; a new and innovative solution to the maintenance backlog on public lands; and legislation to ensure more children have access to public lands. All three of these initiatives were passed by the House Natural Resources and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committees. Several other bipartisan, bicameral bills are positioned to move, including the Recreation Not Red Tape Act and the Public Land Recreational Opportunities Act, both of which eliminate hurdles to getting more people to experience the outdoors. 

It’s great that the work has advanced this far. Addressing these priorities hasn’t been easy. It’s required real negotiation, putting disagreements aside and finding common ground. In today’s climate, this is rare, but the outdoors has served as common ground for legislators before. After the 2016 election, Congress passed several bills important to outdoor recreation. These included the Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act, which requires the government to study the outdoor recreation economy, and the National Park Service Centennial Act, which created mechanisms to provide more funding to our national parks.

Despite the bitterness the 2016 election brought, both parties came back to Congress and found common ground on legislation that connected Americans to the outdoors. They embodied the spirit of what we’ve come to call #UnitedOutside.

Today, they can do the same. If these bills are passed together in the coming weeks, this year could produce the most significant outdoor recreation package in recent history. Every victory in the interests of common sense, common ground and the common good will be appreciated by millions of Americans — Republican and Democrat — who love life outdoors.

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Passing these bills will also help drive an economic engine that benefits everyone from big cities to small rural towns. The federal government recently determined that the outdoor industry makes up roughly 2.2 percent of the country’s gross domestic product and is responsible for 4.5 million jobs in urban and rural communities throughout the country. 

This is work worth doing. The great outdoors provides an important venue for everyone — political party or background aside — to see past differences. As this pivotal moment approaches, I hope Congress, the White House, non-profits, and our industry will dig deep to create an end-of-year victory for outdoor recreation. Success would be impressive amid the dominant, too often stifling, national narrative that people in this country can no longer get along. Let’s step into the arena together and prove that story is wrong.

Jerry Stritzke is president and CEO of Recreational Equipment, Inc., commonly known as REI, an American specialty outdoor retailer and the nation’s largest cooperative.