Corps Commander Expresses Support for Agency Recreation Efforts

Washington, D.C. (August 23, 2007) – Three recreation community leaders met with the Commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Lt. General Robert Van Antwerp, to address opportunities and challenges facing the Corps, the nation’s top federal provider of recreation experiences – nearly 400 million annually. Discussions ranged from strategies to attract children to outdoors fun to funding Corps recreation efforts, from the critical role of access to boating’s future to redefining the agency’s recreation efforts from an end goal in themselves to a strategy to contribute to the nation’s health and safety.

General Van Antwerp assumed command of the USACE in May 2007, leading some 33,000 civilian and 600 military employees active throughout the world who are responsible for much of the nation’s civil works and military infrastructure construction and operations. The General has had important regional assignments at the agency during his career but most recently served as Commanding General of the U.S. Army Accessions Command, responsible for recruiting and training youth entering the U.S. Army.

“The General understands the gravity of the problem facing America from decreased physical activity, including recreation. He told us that 32% of the young people who are age-eligible for the Army and other military services could not meet the Army’s obesity standards – even though the allowable body-fat level had recently been substantially increased,” said Derrick Crandall, American Recreation Coalition President. “And he understood that the Corps’ recreation facilities are vital to the economic vitality of countless communities.”

Much of the discussion focused on the opportunity to overcome specific obstacles facing the agency’s recreation program, including an inability to charge and retain recreation fees in a fashion parallel to programs of the National Park Service and the Forest Service. Congressional jurisdictional conflict excluded the Corps from inclusion in the Recreation Fee Demonstration Program in 1996 and the subsequent 10-year fee authority under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act.

According to Crandall, “The USACE is our most important example of the need to define recreation’s value better. Within the Beltway, forces that control the agency budget warn of ‘mission creep’ and assert that recreation is a second-tier objective for USACE that cannot interfere with the agency’s public health and safety roles in flood protection, navigation and environmental protection. The truth is that 20,000 American children will be diagnosed this year with diabetes – largely the consequence of low activity levels and obesity – and respected health professionals are warning that this generation of Americans may actually have a shorter life expectancy than its parents enjoyed because of inactivity – as well as predicting great strains on the nation’s health care system. There is no doubt in my mind that the Corps can contribute meaningfully to protecting the nation’s health and safety by increasing recreational activities across the nation.”

The General sought the advice of the recreation community representatives for next steps and received a range of proposals. BoatUS Vice President Ryck Lydecker invited the USACE to be an active partner in a national conference on inland waters boating access challenges, and Crandall called for a new USACE Recreation Strategy that looks at maximizing benefits to the nation and fully explores options and needed tools. Cindy Squires, Regulatory Counsel for the National Marine Manufacturers Association, recommended continued efforts to improve communications between the Corps and its stakeholders to allow challenges – including dam-safety concerns – to be understood and solved together.

During the discussions, the General mentioned that he and his family are committed boaters and regularly use a Sea Ray on the Potomac.

Mary Coulombe, USACE Chief of Natural Resources Management, who arranged and took part in the meeting, will assume responsibility for the next steps, including a session to discuss further the current and potential contributions the USACE can make to national health, education, crime prevention and economic development needs through its recreation programs and the USACE role in attacking obesity