Outdoor Nation gins up support with summits across the country

SNEWS reporter Yoon Kim recaps the latest Outdoor Nation events in New York City and Washington D.C., as the industry’s future leaders focus their efforts to fight cuts in conservation.

Young people are stepping up to defend their inheritance: the great outdoors.

And they’re getting help from some of the top outdoor organizations in the industry, including the Outdoor Industry Association, the Outdoor Foundation, the EPA, the Wildlife Federation, the Forest Service, the National Park Service and the Student Conversation Association.

“Never in American history have outdoor and conservation issues been so vulnerable to cuts and elimination,” said Chris Fanning, executive director of the Outdoor Foundation.

Recently, a group of young leaders honed their business skills at an Outdoor Nation summit in New York City. Shortly afterward, another group displayed their lobbying prowess at an Outdoor Nation event in Washington, D.C. Future summits are slated for Los Angeles, Austin and Boston, and young outdoor industry types will gather during Outdoor Retailer in Salt Lake City at the Futurist Project. Each summit has a clearly defined agenda — some focus on advocacy techniques for outdoor newbies, while others contain hardcore training for entrepreneurs and lobbyists.

In New York City, about 50 delegates gathered at New York University for what was essentially a two-day start-up accelerator. They broke up into groups, brainstormed projects, pitched those projects to “investors,” received training on basic business skills (like developing a marketing strategy and attaining press), then awaited funding decisions. The investor the Outdoor Foundation, the charitable arm of the OIA.

In Washington, D.C., about 15 of the best and brightest spent a week immersed in grassroots political training, service projects and lobbying. Speakers such as Lisa Jackson, administrator for the EPA, prepped the delegates before scheduled meetings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, and Kirk Bailey, vice president of governmental affairs for the OIA, trained delegates about the economic and employment impact of the outdoor industry.

Each summit includes a night under the stars. In New York, that evening drew notable names such as Mary Anne Potts, a producer for National Geographic Adventure.

Rather than seeking personal riches or political gain, these Millennials used their talents to benefit the outdoors. If anyone can defend the natural landscape into the future, it’s the Millenial generation. The have been characterized in many ways, but positives include their knack for entrepreneurialism, their ethnic diversity and their level of political engagement.

One interesting aspect of the summits was that Caucasians were in the minority. As Fanning said, the Millennial outdoor movement reflects the face of America. She described this generation as being “colorblind” — able to work together despite their varied heritage.

The future of the outdoors in America ultimately will be a showdown between today’s lawmakers and the tomorrow’s leaders, and we can only hope that the next generation is successful in defending their right to a clean and preserved outdoor nation.

--Yoon Kim