As summer rolls around, tens of millions of Americans—including millions of Kansanians—are leaving their homes to explore and enjoy our country’s great outdoors. And while natural beauty will be in noticeable abundance, it will also be clear to all that our outdoor ecosystem faces very serious challenges.
That’s why the RV industry, along with outdoor recreation companies, conservationists and enthusiasts who make up the $689 billion outdoor recreation economy, are calling on Congress to pass America’s Outdoor Recreation Act of 2022, legislation aimed at to modernize and improve outdoor leisure activities in our federal states.
These challenges need to be solved not only for outdoor enthusiasts but also for our overall economy. The RV Industry Association recently released our latest study showing that the RV industry has an impressive annual economic output of $140 billion and pays over $47 billion in American wages each year.
In May, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources unanimously approved America’s Outdoor Recreation Act, the first comprehensive recreation package since 1963, to improve and expand America’s outdoor recreation economy while providing sustainable economic boost to rural communities.
I hope that the bill will pass Congress and be signed by the President very soon.
The law addresses infrastructure investments, permitting processes, broadband connectivity to recreational areas, and public-private partnerships – where appropriate – to renovate and operate campgrounds on state land. These actions are critical and will bring long-term benefits to all Americans, especially those in rural and underserved communities.
To better meet the needs of outdoor enthusiasts, this bill will provide for updating and modernizing infrastructure at national park campgrounds, better daily campground maintenance, the ability to accommodate electric vehicles and other future technologies, and improved cellular and Wi-Fi coverage -Enable use service for security purposes as well as for those who choose the great outdoors for their remote office.
In a post-COVID world where remote work is ubiquitous and many can work from anywhere, the need for more widely available cellular and Wi-Fi services is imperative.
America’s Outdoor Recreation Act also calls for park managers to be given the ability to extend shoulder seasons so that camping opportunities don’t shut down prematurely when visitors come across “Closed for the Season” signs. It won’t quite be “endless summer,” but you get the picture.
These outdoor recreation solutions, which have bipartisan support from Congress, not only benefit individuals’ physical and mental health, but also help create healthy and sustainable economies in the rural “gateway” communities that surround national parks.
These are the small towns whose private campgrounds, local outfitters, restaurants and retail businesses support and bet on tourism. Many of the provisions of the law aim to promote economic growth in these communities by providing financial and technical assistance, new entrepreneurship and job training programs, and soft corporate loan programs.
If the 10 million first-time campers who experienced the great outdoors last year are any indication that Americans are rediscovering — and reprioritizing — outdoor recreation. Improving state and water management, access and infrastructure is critical to the enjoyment of current and future outdoor enthusiasts. The law will expand and improve opportunities for all Americans to camp, hike, bike, boat, paddle, fish, hunt, ski and more for all Americans.
The pandemic has shown what Americans value in challenging times; The great outdoors is something we all share and where we have a common interest. However, as outdoor recreation increases in popularity and economic impact, state land management agencies need updated policy tools to protect and improve access to public lands.
America’s Outdoor Recreation Act is the most valuable policy tool we have in front of us right now. US Senators and Representatives from Kansas are among the strongest advocates of outdoor recreation, and I call on the Kansas Congressmen to continue their long-standing support for sound outdoor recreation policies by co-sponsoring America’s Outdoor Recreation Act.
Jeff Rutherford is President and CEO of Wichita-based Airxcel Inc., a leading designer and manufacturer of recreational vehicle components. Rutherford is also the chairman of the board of the RV Industry Association.