Great Outdoors Week 2006 Report

Washington, D.C. - Great Outdoors Week 2006 (June 12-17) brought together hundreds of outdoor recreation leaders for meetings, discussions and celebrations of significant achievements. This year’s theme -- Meeting the Needs of Americans Today and Tomorrow – brought focus to volunteerism, public-private partnerships, improving health through recreation, recreational trails and scenic byways programs, the unveiling of the internet-based Toolbox for the Great Outdoors, Second Edition and public lands access challenges. Two dozen important national awards were a key highlight of the week’s events.

Great Outdoors Week is coordinated each year by the American Recreation Coalition (ARC) and includes events hosted by more than a dozen federal agencies and national organizations. “The week demonstrates that Important progress is underway in crafting a new blueprint for recreation in the 21st century, one which emphasizes the ties between key societal issues and recreation,” said American Recreation Coalition (ARC) President Derrick Crandall.

Great Outdoors Week is the highlight of Great Outdoors Month, a month-long celebration of outdoor recreation, which also features events such as National Trails Day, National Fishing and Boating Week, and National Clean Beaches Week. For the third year, Great Outdoors Month was proclaimed by President George W. Bush who extolled the virtues of outdoor recreation and volunteerism and noted that “Americans live amid many wonders of nature. Our nation’s varied landscapes include sandy beaches, expansive forests, emerald waters, and towering mountains. Through biking, swimming, skiing, hiking and many other activities, Americans are enjoying our country’s magnificent scenery and the healthy benefits of outdoor recreation.” The proclamation can be read below.

Monday, June 12

The week opened with a forum entitled “Linking Health and Recreation: Parks and Partners.” The forum highlighted National Park Service (NPS) Director Fran Mainella’s leadership in responding to the President’s HealthierUS initiative. Director Mainella reported on NPS efforts to advance the physical and mental health of the American public by encouraging appropriate physical activity during visits to national parks. To mark Great Outdoors Week, Director Mainella announced her approval and implementation of recommendations of the National Park System Advisory Board’s Committee on Health and Recreation. Seven pilot efforts are underway to encourage visitors and neighbors of the parks to engage in additional, appropriate physical activities. The Director invited recreation community leaders to join in learning from these pilots and then aiding the NPS expand its efforts to stimulate more physical activity by park visitors. Fran added that the efforts are designed to increase awareness of the benefits of physical activity, to catalyze additional activity during actual visits and to help stimulate lifestyle changes. To learn more, click here.

Seven Beacon Awards were given to agencies and individuals for innovative use of technology to improve visitor services and recreation management. The awards involved five federal agencies and several partners and ranged from an innovative volunteer recruitment and management website to webcams and radio information in the Nation’s Capital to help visitors at special events such as the Cherry Blossom Festival. For details on the Beacon Awards, click here.

The new Secretary of the Interior, Dirk Kempthorne, spoke at Tuesday’s reception, “The Great Outdoors: From Sea to Shining Sea”, co-hosted by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC), the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) and the American Recreation Coalition (ARC). The Secretary told of his personal enjoyment of outdoor recreation and his interest in motorcycles and RVs, in particular. He was given a commemorative “Teddy’s Teddy” bear by Richard Coon, president of RVIA, as a symbol of the long tradition of conservation at the Department of the Interior.

The second edition of the Toolbox for the Great Outdoors, an internet-based resource for federal land managers and their partners, was demonstrated at the reception. The Toolbox is a joint project of federal land management agencies, ARC and ReserveAmerica. To visit the Toolbox, click here.

Tuesday, June 13

U.S. Representative Steve Pearce (R-NM), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, was the keynote speaker at Tuesday’s Capitol Hill “National Issues Update.” He detailed recent hearings on visitation and handicap access to national parks, calling for a systemic “attitude change” within the park system. He noted that “core operations teams” have helped development of park business plans and promised efforts to expand this effort. He stressed the issue of relevancy of national parks to growing populations of Hispanics and African Americans will be critical in budget decisions 10-30 years out, and must be addressed now.

Audience members expressed concerns regarding the considerable cost of senior discounts (often passed on to younger visitors) to concessioners, and noted opportunities for federal funding for parks through the Department of Health and Human Service as preventive health care. Mr. Pearce expressed willingness to work on this with the Secretary of Health and Human Services and is also expressed interest in tax incentives for the tourism industry to promote outdoor recreation in parks.

Other issues reviewed during the meeting were the FY'07 budget, the proposed Gateways Community Cooperation Act (H.R. 585),and the November 2006 roll out of the multi-agency recreation pass created under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act. Jan Engert, partnership coordinator at the Forest Service, discussed the “Forest Service Partnership Enhancement Act” now under consideration by Congress which would make permanent or expand enhanced partnership authorities including shared facilities and cooperative visitor services. Rulemaking under this act will further solidify FS partners in collaborative business practices, she said.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall was the guest speaker at the Great Outdoors Week Recreation Exchange. Dale expressed his deep commitment to maintaining the relevance of public lands into the future for all Americans, whom he believes have an innate need to be close to nature. More than 40,000 volunteers demonstrate this love of natural resources (and people) by volunteering each year in National Wildlife Refuges.

How to thank volunteers, “open the door wider” through increased access to public lands and bring Americans of all backgrounds onto public lands were the subjects of a recent retreat of agency heads with new Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, Mr. Hall reported.

Mr. Hall addressed the importance of helping children develop an intimate relationship with nature. “Nature gives children a feeling of being protected,” he said. “Let them skin their knees in a quest for knowledge, and most importantly, take their hands and go with them.” He expressed support for the Colorado Youth Outdoors program, a ranch-based outdoor educational program for school credit that requires an adult accompany each child through the program, bringing families together as they connect with nature. In closing, Director Hall noted that better decisions are made when the full range of partners is brought into the process. And “if we feel uncomfortable when we make decisions,” he said, “it means we have struggled with the issues.” Empowering employees for change is essential, he noted, and “changing the culture of agencies is the largest single issue facing government.”

In response to a question about Secretary Kempthorne’s interest in better integrating the various agency’s grant programs, Mr. Hall agreed that payoff could be maximized by coordinating state and federal plans to identify priorities and overlapping programs and then applying available grants. This approach would multiply results to achieve healthy ecosystems and landscape-level outcomes. Critical to this model is identifying which programs are most effective, and which partners are essential to success.


Dale Hall (L) Jim Burkhart (C) Derrick Crandall (R)

Following Director Hall’s speech, ARC and top agency officials presented the 2006 Legends Awards, honoring dedicated employees of seven agencies whose actions have enhanced recreation opportunities significantly.


2006 Legends Award Recipients

For details on the Legends awards, click here.

U. S. Representative Thomas E. Petri (R-WI) was honored at a gala reception attended by more than 200 recreation leaders on Tuesday night. Mr. Petri received the 18th Sheldon Coleman Great Outdoors Award -- the recreation community’s most prestigious – for his extraordinary leadership on national transportation policy matters of special significance to the recreation community, as well Wallop-Breaux programs and more.

Following formal ceremonies attended by more than 200, dessert was served in the newly–renovated Recreation Suite, home to the American Recreation Coalition.

Wednesday, June 14

Applying the Administration’s Cooperative Conservation program to recreation on public lands was the focus of a meeting attended by public and private recreation leaders on Wednesday morning. The Honorable James Connaughton, Chairman of the President’s Council on Environmental Quality, stressed that the President wants to engage and focus on recreation as a link to the natural world. Mr. Connaughton reported that a high-level working group of agency heads from the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Departments of Agriculture and the Interior and more are working to implement the recommendations of the August 2005 White House Conference on Cooperative Conservation, including a new legislative package. The package will likely include incentives for private landowners to allow public access to their lands for recreation. Education is going on internally in government, he said, “on how to say ‘yes’ to partnerships and sharing resources” to achieve several goals: connecting youth to the outdoors as fast and as broadly as possible; appreciating and valuing recreation and conservation efforts by for-profit organizations; cooperation in arenas that improve both environmental quality and recreation and developing new technologies that enhance recreation.

Brief presentations were made by participants on cooperative conservation efforts in the public and private sectors in the arenas of guest services, “natural” playgrounds, the Toolbox for the Great Outdoors, Fish and Wildlife Service grant making, and national service programs.

Participants were asked for input on contract issues and recreation policy needs. Suggestions ranged from: seasonal storage of boats and RVs at federal recreation areas to reduce energy use in towing; easier means to give credit to private companies that assist public land management; and a regional approach to providing recreation amenities across jurisdictions and in cooperation with private sector partners.

A large crowd and a bevy of national legislators gathered in the U.S. House of Representatives committee on Agriculture hearing room to see nine trail projects honored Wednesday afternoon by the Coalition for Recreational Trails (CRT), a federation of national and regional trail-related organizations that work together to build awareness and understanding of the Recreational Trails Program, to support its effective implementation and to help ensure that it receives adequate funding. The seventh annual CRT Achievement Awards recognized outstanding use of Recreational Trails Program (RTP) funds. U.S. Senator Craig Thomas (R-WY) and U.S. Representative Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) assisted in honoring projects in their states.

Senator Thomas (L), Wyoming Trail Crew, Derrick Crandall (R)

Also honored at the event were three key leaders in the history and development of the RTP over the last 15 years: U.S. Representative Nick Rahall (D-WV); U.S. Representative Thomas Petri (R-WY), and U.S. Senator Lincoln Chafee (R-RI). CRT also reviewed the recent successes of the RTP program. 2005's Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users -- also known as SAFETEA-LU, increased RTP funding over the next four years from $70 million for FY ‘06; to $85 million for FY ’09. According to the Federal Highway Administration, that $70 million represents only 24% of the $286 million in federal motor-fuel taxes that off-highway recreationists pay every year. While the CRT believes that a much greater portion of those funds – at least 50% – should be returned to the Recreational Trails Program, advocates are pleased that Congress acted so forcefully to increase the RTP. To read more about the awards, click here.

Wednesday’s events wrapped up with gathering of Scenic Byways supporters to kick-off “Byways 2021," an effort led by the America’s Byways Resource Center (ABRC) and the Scenic Byways Coalition to celebrate 15 years of byways progress and to plan for the future of the national byways effort. U.S. Representative James Oberstar (D-MN) spoke to the group, providing some historical background, and recommitting his support to “one of the greatest investments we have made in America.”

According to Derrick Crandall, President of ARC, “uniting byways interests both horizontally and vertically – national groups and grassroots organizations – will secure a bright future for byways and result in byways becoming an American legacy with a stature equal to our national park and forest systems.” Helen Sramek of AAA provided insight into the challenges transportation programs – including byways – will face in debates about the nature of federal transportation priorities following the expiration of SAFETEA-LU in 2009. Byways 2021 will have four key facets, including a “blog” (www.byways2021.org) to stimulate discussions about the future of byways, a new database on byways projects to aid in transferring lessons learned, a December 2006 anniversary celebration and a May 2007 symposium. A reception hosted by the American Automobile Association followed.

Thursday, June 15

A first-ever Public Lands Access Forum focused on multiple threats to access to public lands by recreationists. The organizing session of the forum was sponsored by the National Association of Counties (NACo), the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) and the American Recreation Coalition. Almost 65 conservation, recreation, tourism and government leaders discussed numerous concerns including the status of public lands road and trails systems and their relationship to recreation, tourism, fire protection, economic development and environmental protection.

Jim Bedwell, new Director of Recreation for the Forest Service nationally, put the issues in context for the group. He explained that the FS road system is made up of 73,000 miles of passenger car roads (10,000 paved), and more than 300,000 miles of “rough” administrative roads (most built as logging roads). Due to a lack of maintenance, 18,000 miles of passenger roads have been lost over time due to washouts, bridge failures and neglect. The loss of these roads results in shrinking recreational access to trailheads and rivers, challenges for ecological restoration and fire supression and incompatible uses sharing smaller areas.

The Forum will continue to be led by the three organizations and will soon have an action strategy. The strategy will include presentations on public lands roads and trails challenges to interested groups, one or more additional meetings to better define access challenges prompted by land ownership patterns, statutes and regulations, land use management, economics and inadequate information. Forum members will collect, analyze and disseminate information on road and trail needs on public lands, especially national forests and BLM-administered lands. The Forum hopes to articulate a set of solutions and principles and create an action plan which insures the maintenance of a road and trail system that provides recreation, economic and environmental benefits to the public for consideration by the Administration and Congress.

Thursday’s events wound up at a Forest Service Recreation Staff Open House which featured presentations by the agency’s new Director of Recreation Jim Bedwell and its new Director of Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers, Chris Brown, to a large gathering of recreation leaders. Updates were given on OHV policy implementation, recreation fee implementation, accessibility and more. Agency leaders Sally Collins, Associate Chief, and Joel Holtrop, Deputy Chief for the National Forest System, took part in the session. ARC, coordinator of Great Outdoors Week each June, is the national voice for America’s recreation community, is a nonprofit federation of more than 100 organizations representing enthusiasts, private-sector providers of recreation opportunities, and producers of recreation equipment.

To view the Great Outdoors Week 2006 Image Gallery, click here.

GREAT OUTDOORS MONTH 2006: A PROCLAMATION
by the President of the United States of America

Great Outdoors Month is an opportunity to celebrate and experience America's natural splendor and renew our commitment to conserve our air, water, and land. During this month, we also honor the dedicated men and women who volunteer to help protect our natural resources.

Americans live amid many wonders of nature. Our Nation's varied landscapes include sandy beaches, expansive forests, emerald waters, and towering mountains. Through biking, swimming, skiing, hiking, and many other activities, Americans are enjoying our country's magnificent scenery and the healthy benefits of outdoor recreation.

To ensure that our natural heritage remains a source of pride for all our citizens, my Administration is committed to conserving America's public lands and natural resources and pursuing environmentally responsible initiatives. We are working to accelerate research into cleaner sources of energy, protect our water sources, and encourage the use of hybrid cars. We have put in place a series of clean air regulations that will help us to meet air quality standards. Through efforts like these, we will continue our Nation's economic growth and protect the environment.

Our citizens play an important role in protecting our natural spaces. Throughout our country, Americans are volunteering in their communities for environmental education programs, local parks, nature conservancies, and other stewardship opportunities. These devoted individuals are working to maintain park trails, restore wildlife habitats, plant trees, and clear overgrowth. I appreciate these volunteers for their efforts to keep America beautiful, and I encourage all Americans to demonstrate good stewardship and an appreciation for the outdoors. Individuals interested in volunteering can visit the Department of the Interior's Take Pride in America website at takepride.gov.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2006 as Great Outdoors Month. I call on all Americans to observe this month with appropriate programs and activities and to spend time enjoying the outdoors.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty third day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand six, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirtieth.

GEORGE W. BUSH