October was a historic month for outdoor recreation. Directors of offices from Maine, Michigan, Nevada, Virginia, and New Mexico joined eight other states in signing the Confluence Accords at the sixth annual Utah Outdoor Recreation Summit in St. George.
The set of 12 principles was developed in 2018 by the Confluence of States, a bipartisan group of eight pioneering states, to promote and advance industry-wide best practices. Those include the four pillars of conservation and stewardship, education and workforce training, economic development, and public health and wellness.
“I think the bottom line here is that we all recognize that the recreation experience is very valuable and important to the citizens of the United States and Utah and local communities," said Abbie Josie, deputy state director for resources at the Bureau of Land Management in Utah. "We are all committed to working together to provide for that in the long-term."
For three days in mid-October, outdoor industry professionals from local and national recreation-related offices convened for the largest state-based outdoor summit in the country. The event featured educational workshops, panel discussions, breakout sessions, and of course, outdoor adventures nearby. Participants included a veritable who’s who of local, state, and federal agencies, including David Vela, deputy director of operations for the National Parks Service; Ed Roberson, Bureau of Land Management Utah state director; Michiko Martin, director of the USDA Forest Service; and every forest recreation supervisor from around the country.
Industry pros will likely recognize the name of one of the newest office of outdoor recreation directors, Axie Navas, who recently left her position as digital editorial director for Outside to lead the charge for New Mexico. Navas attended the summit to sign the Confluence Accords on behalf of New Mexico.
Navas talked about her vision for New Mexico’s outdoor recreation and economy and what excites her about the role. “The more stakeholders I talk to, the more the vision evolves,” Navas said. “We’re within Economic Development for a reason and it’s very much about expanding the outdoor recreation economy to every corner of the state so there’s a real emphasis on workforce development and bringing more outdoor recreation jobs to some of our more rural counties—that’s the 30,000-foot view. It’s such an interconnected fabric, in order to build those jobs in rural counties throughout New Mexico, we also have to build the infrastructure. So that means both port-a-potties and campsites, but it also means protecting public lands because that really is the fundamental infrastructure upon which this economy is built.”
Utah's office became the first in the nation in 2013 and Tom Adams was the second person to ever hold the special title under the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Since then, 15 other states have followed suit by creating similar roles under the aegis of economic development departments.
“The idea is to learn from each other, share best practices, and create more collaboration opportunities and to do it in a really fun, engaging, and impactful way,” Adams said.
Maine, Michigan, Nevada, Virginia, and New Mexico have now joined Colorado, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, Wyoming, and of course, Utah in this coalition of states whose goal is to serve as a unified voice for the outdoor industry.
Other states with offices who have not yet signed the accords are New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Maryland.
Four initiatives set the stage for the Utah event:
- Policy: Recognizing the importance of outdoor recreation for the economy
- Recruitment and retention: Bringing more outdoor brands to the state and keeping them happy here
- Infrastructure: Investing in projects, activities, and rural counties
- Inspiration: Promoting the health and social benefits of outdoor recreation, especially to young people
The tone was collaborative and hopeful for the future of the outdoor recreation industry and public lands. No small effort was made to weave together the tapestry of collaboration between local, state, and federal agencies along with other important industry players. As a united force, they’ll focus on propelling the movement forward by modernizing business practices, addressing aging infrastructure, putting leaders in a better position to make science-based decisions, and, perhaps most importantly, endowing the next generation with the power to be excellent stewards of conservation.
Vela, who was nominated to lead the NPS in September, said, “It’s incumbent that we engage the next generation and communities of color because they will be the future protectors of these landscapes and recreational experiences for generations to come. We have a duty and an obligation to make sure that we effectively engage them and to make sure that they are as diverse as possible.”
Next year’s summit will be held at Utah Valley Convention Center in Provo in August.