Opinion

Federal Investments in the Outdoors Would Give Americans and Our Economy Room to Breathe

By Lise Aangeenbrug & Shawn Gorman
May 21, 2020 at 5:00 am ET

Americans are stepping up to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. To find relief from the stress and confinement of our new normal, many of us are also stepping out. Six feet apart, our greatest shared experience has become a literal breath of fresh air.

It is a change to our way of living that is expected to last. More Americans are spending time outside, with 90 percent of those saying they will continue to do so once the crisis ends. Among active-duty military families and veterans, spending time outside is one of the top three ways to support mental health, and there is an appetite for better access to recreational activities. The outdoor recreation industry understands why Americans are clamoring for the many health benefits of getting outside, and we are hard at work to ensure families in every community can access the outdoors safely.

The outdoor recreation industry powers more than memorable experiences and an appreciation for nature. We are an essential economic force, representing 2.2 percent of the nation’s GDP, as well as generating 7.6 million jobs and $887 billion in consumer spending.

Behind these numbers are communities, neighborhoods, small businesses and working families. If we shut down, so do millions of jobs and funding for essential services across America. Add to the picture supply chain issues, punitive tariffs that drive up prices for consumers, missing out on peak warm weather season and the difficulty of projecting supply and demand for next year, the forecast is looking cloudy for outdoor retailers and manufacturers.

At L.L. Bean, with our retail locations across the country closed since March 16, we – like so many others – have had to make difficult decisions in order to manage risks and reduce costs. Moving employees to Extended Lack of Work Programs, reducing work week hours across all levels of the organization, and cutting inventory purchases are just a few of the measures we have taken. But we are the lucky ones. With a resilient e-commerce business in place, and a highly-skilled manufacturing and distribution organization, we’ve been able to pivot to help our community as well as continue fulfilling customer orders, enabling them to get outside.

Despite our present challenges, the industry is uniquely positioned to help more Americans get outdoors while simultaneously recharging the economy. Thankfully, the Paycheck Protection Program has bought many in the industry much-needed time, but we will need more support at the federal, state and local levels to make a full return. Certain federal investments in recreation infrastructure, which the industry has outlined in a letter to Congress, would allow us to continue fostering thriving communities and local businesses that benefit the entire country.

To prepare for the return to camps, parks and outdoor recreational areas, which President Donald Trump has signaled will happen in phase two of the reopening process, lawmakers should start by passing the Great American Outdoors Act. This bipartisan legislation would permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund and reduce the maintenance backlog on our public lands, strengthening local tourism while doubling investment in local economies, and creating thousands of jobs. Incorporating the SOAR Act and Recreation Not Red Tape Act into any legislative stimulus package would also help reignite local tourism, streamlining the permit process for guided adventures and outfitters.

As life returns to normal, it will be equally important to restore, steward and increase access to our newly open lands. This means funding for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure to provide people with safe, environmentally sensitive and low-cost forms of transportation and recreation. It means funding the expansion of the Civilian Conservation Corps — a ready-made, rapidly deployable program to combat unemployment. It also means helping state and local municipalities overcome significant revenue declines to build and maintain parks, trails, and other outdoor recreation amenities to help serve communities lacking nearby nature.

Lastly, our lawmakers should not forget that any new transportation, energy and infrastructure provisions are an opportunity to reduce carbon emissions. Green solutions to our current problems will ensure outdoor recreation creates a positive and sustainable environment for people and the planet for years to come.

At the Outdoor Industry Association, we believe “together we are a force” for the outdoors. Those words, and the need for a collective recovery effort, have never been truer.

Lise Aangeenbrug is executive director of Outdoor Industry Association and Shawn Gorman is executive chairman of L.L. Bean and an OIA board member.

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