I’m just gonna say it: I want my home state of California to be the next state to announce the establishment of an Outdoor Recreation (OREC) Industry Office.

As an industry, we’ve been on a roll. Since Utah started the movement in 2013 by appointing Brad Petersen as the first ever OREC Director in the country, five other states (Colorado, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon, and Washington) now have similar offices and three have official task forces (Maryland, Wyoming, and Vermont) that serve the same purpose.

Outdoor Recreation (OREC) offices

When Petersen took office, the idea of having a high-level government official devoted to the health and growth of the outdoor industry was a novel idea. Petersen was a Utah-based mountain guide, business owner, and stalwart insider in the Utah/Rockies climbing scene. His entry into politics was sudden, and he quickly learned that a title without a budget to work with made for hard trail-breaking.

"Without a job description, business plan or strategy I quickly realized that my role as the first State Director was to sell everyone on the need for the Office; to be the head cheerleader; to be the face for the concept. Selling counties and communities on the benefits was easy, but figuring out how to help them was not. Without funding to help communities develop new recreational assets my ability to make Utah a better place to live was very limited. Four years later we have secured $4m+ in annual funding.” –Brad Petersen, the first ever OREC Director in the U.S., served Utah from 2013 to 2016

We’ve learned a lot since then, and it’s making a difference. Momentum is building. States all around the country are recognizing that the outdoor industry is an economic powerhouse.

And we’re making progress in California, where outdoor recreation accounts for $92 billion in consumer spending. Back in January of 2017, several other members of the outdoor industry (including Matt Lyon from Hydrapak, Katie Hawkins from Marmot, Jeff Turner from Kokotat, Dave Polivy from Tahoe Mountain Sports, and John Mead from Adventure 16,) and I started meeting as an ad-hoc group, sharing discoveries and giving ourselves homework. Then we found a champion lawmaker in Assembly Member Eduardo Garcia, of the 56 District. Once Garcia came on board, things got real pretty quickly. Having a legislative champion is one of the key elements of launching a state initiative where you live (see Roadmap to Outdoor Rec, below).

In fact, as I write this, I am in route to Sacramento, where one California champion, assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, will be attending a reception near the state capitol tonite (Nov. 20) to celebrate the passage of CA SB5 (a substantial $4BB Park Funding bill for CA). Garcia has introduced a bill himself, AB-907, to the House of Representatives that would create an office of OREC here. The bill will go to vote in spring of 2018, and all of us involved are optimistic. We’re so close we can almost taste it. 

If you’re a California business and want to help, we need you! Reach out to me to learn more: kenji@kenjiconsults.com.

We need more OREC offices. Here’s why they matter.

They bring benefits to communities. Encouraging adventure through wild places brings economic prosperity to gateway communities, has minimum impact on ecosystem health and provides regular, predictable and ‘sticky’ locally spent dollars. This is in contrast with the boom/bust cycle seen in the ‘old west’ extractive economies (coal, oil, gas, mining) that have left many rural towns in economic retreat. Outdoor retailers and outfitters prosper and thrive near well-managed recreation resources. This story is unfolding in Appalachia, as well as other supporting gateway communities from Joshua Tree to the Gunks.

Outdoor Recreation (OREC) offices

In Appalachia, recreation areas overlay a shrinking economic footprint for extraction (coal), and represent sustainable, non ‘boom-bust’ growth.

They create an investment funnel to support recreation and conservation collaborations to bolster or replace shrinking businesses (like logging in the Pacific Northwest or mining in Utah). A state office can work to draw in businesses and establish jobs and investment in the state. Ogden, Utah, is the poster child of successful redevelopment. Through the work of Mayor Godfrey (2010 era) and other key politicians, they turned a mining ghost town into a modern outdoor mecca, with over a dozen outdoor brands now with significant business hubs there (the entire Amer Group, Scott USA, QBP, and Osprey Packs to name a few).

They unify different geographic and activity sectors. A state OREC office can make sure that efforts happening around different corners of the state are aligned (Colorado and Utah OREC directors both travel extensively within their state, reinforcing relationships). Shared resources like GIS (Geographic Information System) mapping software, marketing platforms and talent, and trail building equipment and expertise save time and money, and create more durable solutions. Blending local input with broader ecosystem level resource management is manageable at the state level, and a central office can also interface with nearby state’s OREC leaders for cross-pollenating ideas and solutions.

They measure and promote health effects of recreating outdoors. As the ‘Nature Rx’ message spreads, a central state office can power coordinated education and engagement campaigns in diverse communities. School districts, neighborhood associations and families can get support in adopting healthy outdoor lifestyles proven to reduce stress, combat disease and extend life.

They build up the outdoor recreation economy that provides sustainable jobs, a stewardship mindset, and predictable tax revenues. Brands, retailers and outfitters will benefit by taking advantage of programs and close-to-home access support for employees and those in close-by communities.

Roadmap to Outdoor Rec

Do you want your state to establish an OREC office? I spoke with the majority of the current OREC officials at the recent SH/FT conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to pull together these four steps on how you can get the ball rolling.

Outdoor Recreation (OREC) office

The author, center, in the Senate halls during Climb The Hill, an event organized by Access Fund and American Alpine Club to represent the climbing community in Washington D.C. Left to right: Curt Shannon, Katie Goodwin, Haroutunian, Alex Honnold, Peter Croft, and Erik Murdoch.

Step 1: Investigate. Is there already a movement you can join up with? A coalition of outdoor recreation businesses or a conservation non-profit that has assembled leadership? Don’t reinvent the wheel. Tap your network or reach out to your industry association (Outdoor Industry Association) to get nosy. If you’re interested in taking this first step, OIA is a great resource. Contact Cailin O’Brien-Feeney, who has been helpful in the California initiative and most of the other state-level actions across the country.

Step 2: Launch an informal or ad-hoc group. Begin meetings and learn who the outdoor recreation advocates in the state legislature are. Visit them in their home districts or at the state capitol. Use the OIA and the upcoming BEA economic data, and any map data you can show (Outdoor Alliance has a growing body of excellent maps and economic research, as does the Access Fund).

Step 3: Propose a formal working group to your governor, Economic Development director or Parks and Recreation Director. As in Wyoming’s budding program, Once your working group/task force is sufficiently deep and inclusive, put a request in to the Governor’s office to establish a formal study of the OREC situation in your state, and come up with recommendations for a deliberate growth path forward. If the governor won’t budge, go after a friendly senator or house member. Also, at this point you’ll need a real organization name and real people signed on to your real mission.

Step 4: Get a legislative champion to put something on the ballot for voters to consider funding sustainably, like the Rescue Card in UT or the designated office in MT (only funded for 2 years in the current iteration). A legislative champion can navigate and translate the wave of proposals and bills moving through the state body politic and put forward a bill out for consideration. Experienced lobbyists or staffers familiar with the running of state politics is helpful too.

Ride the wave

The waves of the OREC movement are building: The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) research is due out sometime in 2018, expected to closely match the industry’s own research on OREC financial impacts nationwide. State level data will not be part of this first push to match OREC to GDP, so for those of you so motivated, that will be another (federal funding) initiative to anticipate supporting in the near future.

As a surfer friend of mine can’t stop saying, “Gotta surf when the waves are up, dude.” It’s time for us all to go surfing. 

Outdoor Recreation (OREC) offices


Nathan Fey in a raft

Meet the new director of Colorado's OREC office

The Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office didn't have to look far to replace Luis Benitez, after he announced in March that he was leaving for VF Corporation. Nathan Fey has had his nose underneath the office's tent since its early days. He was a consultant, had a seat on ...read more

From left to right: Luis Benitez, director of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office; Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper; Tom Dempsey, president of Sylvan Sport; North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper; and David Knight, director of North Carolina Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry.

The OREC movement gains momentum

Last week in Asheville, North Carolina, a roomful of delegates from around the country (and a few call-in attendees) took the next step in the Confluence process—a multi-state initiative to develop a national platform for the outdoor recreation industry. It was a ceremonial ...read more

A lighthouse on the rocky coast of Acadia National Park in Maine

BREAKING: Maine poised to get OREC office

Maine is getting closer to leveraging its billion-dollar outdoor recreation economy through an official state office. Today, the state's Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) in a news alert announced the welcoming of Carolann Ouellette as director of the "newly ...read more

A lake in North Carolina surrounded by red, yellow, and green trees

New Hampshire scores outdoor recreation office

New Hampshire followed in the footsteps of 15 other states by creating its own office of outdoor recreation, signed into legislation on Thursday by Gov. Chris Sununu. “New Hampshire’s low tax environment and booming economy are a beacon for business in the northeast,” Sununu said ...read more

Organ Mountains in New Mexico with full moon

New Mexico gets a new OREC office with a diverse twist

The 12th state to create a government office dedicated to promoting the outdoor recreation economy, New Mexico lawmakers voted last night to establish an Outdoor Recreation Division—and the effort takes a different flavor in the Land of Enchantment. While rafting and biking have ...read more

The eight directors of outdoor recreation offices met for a signing of an agreement at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market.

OREC update: Reaching an Accord

If the outdoor industry had a constitution, the Confluence Accords would be it. After seven months of collective effort, representatives from the eight states with formal offices of outdoor recreation gathered on the roof of a downtown Denver hotel yesterday to sign the accords, ...read more

axie navas rop

New Mexico hired its first director for the Office of Outdoor Recreation

New Mexico became the 13th state to establish an Office of Outdoor Recreation in April, and on Monday, the first director started work. Veteran journalist Axie Navas will lead the state's efforts to create a booming outdoor recreation economy, along with the first-of-its-kind ...read more

Map of states with outdoor rec offices

Michigan scores OREC council

Amidst the cow herds and flat cornfields of the Midwest, there is a land plentiful with rivers, streams, forests, and even a mountain range. Michigan is an oasis of outdoor activities, and the state just took a step to make it even better. On Wednesday, Michigan announced a new ...read more

Axie Navas and others sign Confluence Accords in Oct 2019

Here's what's new with the outdoor recreation movement

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 ...read more