Aangeenbrug: America’s Outside Recreation Act is a giant win for Wyoming | Columns

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One of the most consistent and comprehensive proposals to support the nation’s outdoor recreation economy since the early 1960’s is now making its way through the US Senate – America’s Outdoor Recreation Act. This legislation – co-authored by US Senators John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and Joe Manchin, DW.Va. — holds enormous promise for businesses and communities across Wyoming, benefiting from the millions of people who come to the state each year to enjoy its wonders. The timing of this law could not be better.

Outdoor recreation is a cornerstone of life in Wyoming and a pillar of the state’s economy, contributing $1.2 billion to GDP and supporting 5% of the state’s total employment. In recent years, those businesses and jobs have been boosted by historic levels of Americans flocking outdoors in the wake of the pandemic. In 2020, more than 50% of people participated in outdoor recreation at least once, the highest participation rate on record. In Wyoming, these numbers have resulted in a significant increase in visitor numbers to national parks, monuments, forests and state parks, hiking trails, campgrounds, and reservoirs. In Yellowstone National Park, nearly 5 million people passed through the gates last year, with more than 1 million visits in a single month. Devil’s Tower National Monument saw its highest attendance in the monument’s 116-year history, and more than 5 million people visited Wyoming’s state parks and historic sites last year. Supporting and promoting this trend should be a federal priority. Fortunately, Senator Barrasso’s bill aims to do just that.

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The basis of the bill is federal investment in outdoor infrastructure and funding for public parks. It would extend the time that states are open to the public, allocate federal funding to specific infrastructure such as bike lanes and outdoor entrepreneurial training programs, and use real-time data to extend the outdoor recreation season. In addition, the bill simplifies the permitting process and reduces the red tape that creates barriers to recreation, particularly for outfitters and tour guides working on public lands.

For the vast majority of people who live and work in Wyoming, outdoor recreation was a way of life before the pandemic and will continue to be important for generations to come. The numerous economic, physical and mental benefits associated with being in nature are well known. Yet more than 100 million Americans still do not live within walking or biking distance of a park, and all too often the above benefits are unattainable. This requires an immediate change, which legislation is doing through investment in local parks, playgrounds and green spaces.

This is a pivotal moment to support the historic shift in Americans’ renewed appreciation for nature. America’s Outdoor Recreation Act addresses this challenge and will have a real impact on all Americans’ ability to spend time outdoors and enjoy the physical and mental health benefits that come with it, not to mention strengthening a vital component of our economy. The outdoor industry commends Senator Barrasso for his incredible leadership on this landmark law that will have tremendous benefits for Wyoming families and our state’s storied outdoor heritage.

Lise Aangeenbrug is Executive Director of the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA).