It’s not often that you hear of a Congressman hiking the Appalachian Trail. But Rep. Don Beyer, a Democrat representing part of Northern Virginia, has been at it since long before the outdoor industry became the political force it is today. He’s been section-hiking the trail since 2002, and hopes to finish by 2020. His favorite section is the Grayson Highlands in southwestern Virginia, which reminds him of Scotland with its wild horses and cows wandering the hills. In 2016, Beyer was a lead House sponsor of the Outdoor REC Act, which mandates that outdoor recreation be counted as part of the nation’s GDP. The bill easily passed both chambers of Congress. In April, OIA honored Beyer with a Friend of the Industry Award. We asked Beyer how the outdoors influences his political decisions.

U.S. Representative Don Beyer

U.S. Congressman Don Beyer

1. Why did you sponsor the Outdoor REC Act, and what do you hope it will accomplish?

I spend a lot of money every year at REI, Black Diamond, and on all these things that support the hiking and the camping and the climbing that I do. In talking with the outdoor retailers and manufacturers, I was really struck by the idea that most Americans just have no idea how important outdoor recreation and outdoor sports are for our economy. They may have some clue about how good they are for our culture, but they don’t realize that they’re a major contributor to our GDP. There are lots and lots of jobs created. It was a good, bipartisan way to get something small but important done during the last Congress.

2. You’ve joined the House Outdoor Recreation Caucus. What can that caucus achieve?

The very first thing is defending our public lands. I serve on the Natural Resources Committee, and there’s an existential debate between Western Republicans and the rest of the committee members, who very much believe, as I do, that public lands belong to all Americans, and that they need to be managed by the federal government and preserved as best we can. I don’t want to overgeneralize, but for the most part, Western Republicans who represent Utah, Montana, Wyoming, and Nevada have a strong desire to see so many of the federal lands turned back over to the states, or sold.

One of the things the outdoor caucus can do is continue to point out that most of these federal lands typically generate far more dollars through hunting, tourism, fishing, hiking, and camping than they do through grazing and, sometimes, fossil fuels.

3. Why did you start hiking the Appalachian Trail?

I went to college in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and the trail ran right through town. I served on a trail crew, and I just fell in love with the mountains and the trail. When Richard Nixon invaded Cambodia and we had the killing at Kent State, my college, like many across the country, let out early. They basically just stopped classes and sent everybody home. So we decided to hike home from Williamstown down to Washington, D.C. on the Appalachian Trail. We only made it through one state, Massachusetts, before the blackflies, and the exhaustion, and an injury set in. So, for 46 years, I’ve wanted to finish it. I started in 2002, and I’ve hiked from Georgia to Connecticut.

4. How does your love for the outdoors and your experience on the Appalachian Trail affect the policy decisions you make in the House?

I guess, it’s in the most general of ways. I feel intimately connected to weather, birds, bugs, and mammals, and trees and ferns. They bring me peace, awe, joy, and the great sense of being alive in the world. These experiences make me want to share them, and to protect them for the other billions of people on our planet.

5. What do you think of President Trump’s proposed cuts to public land management agencies?

I think they’re terrible. So much of what he’s done in terms of the cutting is disastrous for the Fish & Wildlife Service and for the Bureau of Land Management. I know our new Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, has sincerely said that dealing with the $12 billion infrastructure backlog for maintenance on the national parks is his number-one priority, but unfortunately, the Trump budget doesn’t reflect that at all. Of course all of his cuts to climate science are devastating for the population of the world, but they’re also going to hurt our public lands. Not dealing with [climate change] will [hurt] … The final budget will be much different than what Trump submitted, thank God.

Cover image: Grayson Highlands, Virginia, courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corp.

Related

Grace Bender and Jeff Morton, L.L.Bean employees

Getting paid to hike the AT

On April 16, L.L.Bean sent off the first of 43 pairs of employees relay-style hiking the Appalachian Trail through August. Once the relay is over, collectively the teams will have passed through 14 states and by 20 L.L.Bean stores along the 2,180 miles.  Their hike coincides with ...read more

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper smiling outdoors

Colorado's governor on the evolution of the outdoor industry

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is the kind of guy who will stand up in front of a room of outdoor industry professionals, realize he’s overdressed, pause to take off his tie, and then keep speaking as if nothing happened. Before he was governor, before he and three friends ...read more

Jolie Varela of Indigenous Women Hike

Indigenous Women Hike founder calls the JMT by its original name

On Aug. 1, Indigenous Women Hike Founder Jolie Varela and a dozen other indigenous women will take their first steps on the 210-mile-long Nuumu Poyo, more widely known as the John Muir Trail in the Eastern Sierra Nevadas. The three-week journey is unlike anything Varela has done ...read more

Annie Nyborg

3 Questions For Annie Nyborg, on Peak Design's 'Give a Shot' campaign

Give a Shot connects photographers willing to donate their time and photos with non-profits in need of imagery. Last week, Peak Design launched a brand-new website, Give a Shot, to connect professional photographers with environmental and conservation-focused non-profits. So ...read more

Timothy Egan

Keep up fighting the good fight for public lands

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, columnist, and author Timothy Egan spent years covering the West—past and present—as a correspondent for The New York Times. His books have covered everything from the origins of the U.S. Forest Service to exploration of the Pacific Northwest to ...read more

Rich Harper

3 Questions For: Rich Harper, OIA's international trade manager

Rich Harper, international trade manager for the Outdoor Industry Association, explains the border adjustment tax and how it could impact the outdoor industry. House Republicans want tax reform, and what they’re proposing is no small change from the current corporate tax ...read more

Len Necefer headshot

5 questions for Natives Outdoors Founder Len Necefer

Len Necefer has a Ph.D in engineering and public policy. It might not surprise you, then, that his outdoor apparel company is about far more than the gear. Natives Outdoors is a B Corp that shares profits with Native communities, and Necefer is working to take back ...read more

Susan Wood, marketer/consultant

How The Trailhead drives small-town success

Buena Vista's The Trailhead is smack in the heart of Colorado Fourteener country—a short drive from 15 of the monster peaks. But for all outdoor recreation in the area, the shop's marketing manager, Susan Wood, and other businesses felt the town still lacked opportunity for the ...read more

avi garbow headshot crop

Patagonia hired a former leader of the EPA to be its environmental advocate

More than five years ago, President Barack Obama nominated a new general counsel for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Avi Garbow had been a federal environmental crimes prosecutor, with decades of experience tackling the most critical threats to air, water, and land. In ...read more