Outdoor industry urges action to support outdoor recreation economy

The Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (ORR) released a letter today signed by 29 national outdoor recreation trade associations, supporting over 100,000 businesses, urging Congress to pass the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA). This legislation would fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and address the nation’s public lands maintenance backlog in order to support rural communities and rescue the outdoor recreation industry, made up of 90 percent small businesses, during this unprecedented downturn.

With supply chains stalled, retailers shuttered, parks closed, and trips and travel canceled, the $778 billion outdoor industry is uniquely impacted by COVID-19 mitigation efforts. An industry survey last week found that 79 percent of outdoor businesses have had to lay off or furlough employees, and that 89 percent are seeing decreased revenue. Traditionally representing 2.2 percent of the GDP, 5.2 million jobs and growing faster than the economy as a whole in every indicator, the industry is rallying together to urge Congress to pass GAOA and make smart fixes to the CARES Act to support this sector key to national economic recovery.

GAOA will fully fund LWCF, providing $900 million per year in investment in the public lands, parks and trails that are the backbone of the outdoor recreation economy. It would also address the growing maintenance backlog on our public lands and waters. The bill will help to bolster recreation dependent communities as Americans seek to get outside away from crowds and practice safe social distancing in the coming months, and support business certainty today and a thriving outdoor recreation economy for years to come.

ORR’s executive director, Jessica Turner, added the following point amplifying the request: 

“Before this crisis hit, Congress was poised to pass the most important piece of legislation to support outdoor recreation access in a century — the Great American Outdoors Act. As the nation shifts to longer-term economic investments and stimulus packages, we need Congress to act more than ever, to invest in our nation’s outdoor recreation infrastructure and get Americans outside and back to work. Through full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, this bill would provide certainty for communities who are eager to invest in close-to-home park infrastructure, create opportunities for public access to the outdoors, and support the recreation economy. This will have a long-term economic impact on rural communities and will increase the outdoor experience tremendously once the worst of the pandemic is over.”

The Outdoor Industry’s Full Letter to Congressional Leaders is below:

Senator Mitch McConnell

Majority Leader

U.S. Senate

317 Russell Senate Office Building

Washington, D.C. 20510

Senator Charles Schumer

Minority Leader

U.S. Senate

322 Hart Senate Office Building

Washington, D.C. 20510

Representative Nancy Pelosi

Speaker of the House

U.S. House of Representatives

1236 Longworth House Office Building

Washington, D.C. 20515

Representative Kevin McCarthy

Minority Leader

U.S. House of Representatives

2468 Rayburn House Office Building

Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Leader McConnell, Leader Schumer, Speaker Pelosi and Leader McCarthy:

Nearly two months into a pandemic that has virtually shut down the nation’s outdoor recreation industry, the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (ORR) cannot stress enough how important passing the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) is to revitalizing America’s outdoor recreation industry, and the small businesses and rural communities it supports. 

ORR is the nation’s leading coalition of outdoor recreation trade associations – made up of 31 national trade associations serving more than 100,000 businesses. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the outdoor recreation industry generated $778 billion in output, accounted for 2.2 percent of GDP, supported 5.2 million jobs and was growing faster than the economy as a whole in every indicator. 

However, about 90 percent of the outdoor sector is made up of small businesses, and they have been devastated by this pandemic. An industry survey last week found that 79 percent of outdoor businesses have had to lay off or furlough employees, and that 89 percent are seeing decreased revenue. Our retailers, apparel and gear manufacturers, outfitters and guides, and outdoor hospitality businesses are experiencing unprecedented downturns and many will never reopen again – particularly if we don’t act now.

Whether as a stand-alone bill or in a stimulus package, the entire outdoor recreation business community urges Congress to pass GAOA as soon as possible. 

GAOA will fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at $900 million annually. The LWCF has, for 50 years, been our nation’s most successful conservation program. LWCF funds can be a lifeline for communities that rely on recreation access to local, state and national parks, wildlife habitats, and working forests. And we need more of such places in an era of social-distancing and close-to-home recreation. This bill would achieve the decades-long goal of fully and permanently funding LWCF, allowing for more recreation access projects on local, state and federal lands that will support business certainty today and a thriving outdoor recreation economy for years to come.

GAOA also addresses the $20 billion maintenance backlog facing our public lands and waters, providing funds that would improve important outdoor recreation related facilities such as docks, restrooms, campgrounds, trails, roads and more. After experiencing an unprecedented surge in visitor demand on the federal land and water system throughout the past decade, years of wear and tear combined with underfunding have resulted in continuously deteriorating infrastructure. These recreation assets, in parks, forests, wildlife refuges and more, could be under considerably more stress as even more Americans recognize the many benefits of time spent outside. This funding will ensure that adequate infrastructure for all types of recreation on our public lands and waters can support rural communities and economies.

A National Park Service study has shown that for every dollar Congress invests in the National Park Service, $10 is returned to the U.S. economy, directly benefiting the nation’s rural areas and gateway communities. And it will help restart the outdoor recreation economy so this sector can do what it does best – revitalize communities, create jobs, support healthful activities, improve quality of life and provide access to amazing outdoor experiences for generations to come. At its core, the outdoor industry relies on public lands and waters where people recreate – and GAOA is the most important thing Congress can do to invest in that outdoor recreation infrastructure.

Addressing the infrastructure needs on our public lands and waters also creates jobs. A Pew Charitable Trusts study estimates that addressing the backlog in our national parks alone would create or support nearly 110,000 infrastructure-related jobs, most of these in struggling rural communities. And, when visitors return to our parks and public lands, we can be assured that these special places will be safe, accessible and ready to help generate tourist dollars in local communities and tax revenues for local, state and federal agencies.

As the nation begins phased emergence from COVID-19 mitigation efforts, all outdoor recreation businesses – while adhering to CDC guidelines – should be included in our health and economic recovery strategies. 

Americans are going to need to get outside to preserve physical and mental health, and recreation businesses are desperate for the certainty this investment would provide in boosting local and rural economies. 

ORR stands ready to work with federal, state and local agencies to ensure Americans have access to nearby open spaces, and adequate infrastructure at some of our most inspiring federal lands and waters for generations to come. Passing GAOA now will help heal people, communities and the outdoor recreation economy. We urge swift passage of this vital legislation. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

America Outdoors

American Horse Council

American Mountain Guides Association

American Trails

American Sportfishing Association

Archery Trade Association

Association of Marina Industries

Boat Owners Association of the United States

CHM Government Services

The Corps Network

Diving Equipment and Marketing Association

International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association

Marine Retailers Association of the Americas

Motorcycle Industry Council

National Association or RV Parks and Campgrounds

National Forest Recreation Association

National Marine Manufacturers Association

National Park Hospitality Association

National Shooting Sports Foundation

Outdoor Industry Association

PeopleForBikes

Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association

RV Dealers Association

RV Industry Association

Snowsports Industries America

Society of Outdoor Recreation Professionals

Specialty Equipment Market Association

Specialty Vehicle Institute of America

Sports & Fitness Industry Association