$646 BILLION IN SALES AND 6.1 MILLION DIRECT JOBS. Those numbers should make everyone stop in their tracks. Those are the figures that the outdoor recreation economy creates in our country, and that doesn’t even address the taxes or indirect jobs, or tertiary benefits our country sees every day from individuals and families visiting our national parks, forests, refuges, heritage sites and other wilderness areas.
In my state of Colorado, we have two of the top five most-visited national forests in the country (number one, White River National Forest and number five, Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest) and these forests, among many other wilderness areas in the Second Congressional District of Colorado, are proof that I represent the most beautiful congressional district in the country. In Colorado and across the nation, it is our outdoor environment that provides joy, peace, happiness and excitement to millions of visitors every day. Consequently, as these visitors enjoy the outdoors, they not only receive spiritual nourishment, but they make a huge positive impact on the economy, especially in our small towns. That is why we must do everything we can to protect our lands, from the wetlands of Florida and the prairies of South Dakota to the beaches of Hawaii and the peaks and plains of Colorado.
In October of 2013, our national parks closed their doors to visitors during the government shutdown. Even though it was for a relatively short time, the economic impacts to the surrounding communities and our country were devastating. The significance of this action provided a window for us to glimpse the impact that outdoor recreation has in the U.S. We need to fully understand its true influence on our economy. That is why I am proud to sponsor the Outdoor Rec Act of 2016 (H.R. 4665). It ensures that outdoor recreation jobs in manufacturing and retail, from travel and tourism to guiding and outfitting, are counted by the federal government as part of the overall GDP. Inconceivably, this is not currently measured. We need this information so that we can push for policy changes to protect our outdoor recreation businesses while we continue to conserve and enhance our public lands. Our communities cannot afford to have our national parks close their doors again.
I am proud to have introduced a bill, The Continental Divide Wilderness and Recreation Act, to preserve almost 60,000 acres of wilderness and recreation land in the magnificent Rocky Mountains. Crafted with input from dozens of stakeholder groups, including small businesses and outdoor recreation companies and organizations, and requested by the communities and businesses themselves, it will help sustain and maintain recreational resources, protect watersheds, preserve important wildlife corridors and strengthen Colorado’s tourism economy.
These bills are just two steps of many that we must take toward getting more people working and playing in the great outdoors. We can encourage veterans, seniors and kids to go outdoors through the Recreation Not Red-Tape Act, written by Senator Ron Wyden [D-OR] and Representative Earl Blumenauer [D-OR], which I co-sponsor. We can streamline the process for recreation guiding permits. We also need to provide appropriate funding to our agencies fighting wildfires so that they no longer have to divert funds for much-needed trail and recreation projects. We can put our veterans to work on public lands, providing them with jobs and simultaneously protecting our lands, through a bill I introduced last year, the Veterans Conservation Corps Act.
The list goes on and on, and I commit to continuing to promote the great outdoors, not only as an economic driver, but as a way of life.
Rep. Jared Polis is a Democrat representing Colorado's 2nd Congressional District. He serves on the House Natural Resources Committee and won a Friend of the Outdoor Industry award from the Outdoor Industry Association in 2015.
An abridged version of this article first appeared on p. 97 of the Day 4 issue of Outdoor Retailer Daily.