Shutdown fallout hits the outdoor recreation economy

Reposted from The Hill–original article.

By Jessica Wahl, Opinion Contributor — 01/16/19 04:30 PM EST

The outdoor recreation community is unified in its message to Congress and the administration to end this shutdown immediately so federal workers, small businesses, rural communities and American families can get back to work and continue to enjoy public lands and waters.

As the shutdown goes through its fourth week, the negative impacts on land and water stewardship, visitor experiences, access and safety are already being felt by the outdoor recreation industry, which employs 4.6 million Americans. Rural and gateway communities across the country that rely on visits to America’s great outdoors are at risk of being hurt even more the longer the shutdown drags on.

Spending the holiday in and around parks, I saw firsthand the shutdown’s impact on my favorite outdoor places. This past weekend, I joined many others clearing fallen trees off power lines and historic buildings, cleaning up trash and clearing trails in Shenandoah National Park and along the Blue Ridge Parkway. It gave me a new appreciation for the federal agency staff and their role in keeping our public lands safe and accessible.

Unfortunately, the shutdown is also adding to the growing $18.6 billion maintenance backlog on our public lands. Last year’s popular Restore our Parks and Public Lands Act — aimed at tackling the maintenance backlog on our public lands— had bipartisan support from hundreds of members of Congress and the administration. Yet every day the shutdown continues, we are losing much-needed revenue usually collected from entrance, camping and other recreation fees.

If shutdowns continue to become more prevalent – as we have seen in the past decade – there must be common-sense policy changes that keep our public lands open, safe and inoculated from issues that have nothing to do with the great outdoors.

While we applaud the many demonstrations of innovative partnerships involving states, gateway communities, concessioners, other business and nonprofits to maintain access and provide partnership services during this difficult time. We worry that as the shutdown lingers these efforts will become unsustainable, impacting access and safety beyond our parks, refuges and waterways.

We can use this time to point fingers or to build bridges. What the past month has made crystal clear is that love for our public lands is widespread and unifying. We have seen an impressive outpouring of support from industry groups, businesses, nonprofits and individuals who have been doing what they can to clean restrooms, clear trails and more.

The Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (ORR) wants to harness that energy into a pragmatic dialogue around safeguarding the outdoors from being impacted during future shutdowns. Sites should continue to collect entrance fees, and land and water agency personnel should be considered “essential,” so that these treasured places can stay open safely and responsibly.

The great outdoors should not be the victim of unrelated issues. We call for uniform policies across the agencies so federal workers, businesses and public lands and waters are not put in this position of uncertainty time and time again.

The outdoor recreation community stands ready to join all policymakers in discussing and adopting future policies that will enable all to fully enjoy our public lands and waters, unlocking these uniquely American experiences, boosting healthier lifestyles and delivering a stronger economy.

Jessica Wahl is Executive Director of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (ORR), America’s leading coalition of outdoor recreation trade associations and organizations working to promote the policy reforms needed to enhance the outdoor recreation economy. Combined, ORR members produce an annual $734 billion output for the U.S. economy, making up 2.2% of America’s GDP.