December 2012 Newsletter


This newsletter is available in PDF format

In this issue:

December Recreation Exchange Looks at the Politics of Recreation
Healthcare Webinar
Partners Outdoors 2013
Penny for the Outdoors
Forest Service Recreation Initiative


The December 2012 Recreation Exchange drew three top national political advisors and a top national conservation organization leader to discuss extraordinary, bipartisan support for national parks and other Great Outdoors issues and how this support can be sustained and used in today’s tumultuous political climate. Whit Ayres, honored as 2012 Republican Pollster of the Year by the American Association of Political Consultants and President of North Star Opinion Research, North Star Vice President Dan Judy, named as a “Rising Star” by Campaigns and Elections Magazine, and Geoff Garin, President of nationally known Peter Hart Research Associates, reviewed findings of a national survey of likely US voters conducted earlier this year (available here). All three are deeply involved in campaign strategy efforts, specializing in identifying issues that differentiate Republican and Democratic candidates.

The consultants shared findings each felt were especially relevant. On parks, Whit Ayres told the group, there is virtually no variation in support across the political spectrum. He said, and his colleagues concurred, that this universal support is very, very unusual – especially when married with broad agreement that federal spending on parks and protection of park areas is an important and appropriate governmental role. Whit noted that the park messages which resonated most strongly did vary by ideology, with messages about values, about economic impact and about family experiences drawing the most support from those describing themselves as Republicans and conservatives.

Dan Judy noted that Americans saw politicians who visibly supported parks as associated with numerous additional positive characteristics. He also expressed surprise that many Republican candidates and officeholders were “tone-deaf” to the parks cause when they had the ability to seize it and capitalize on a connection with Teddy Roosevelt who enjoys an image as “cool, a bad-ass” and an asset to Republicans. Dan expressed disappointment that the Romney campaign had raised the national parks issue at the convention with references to family vacations to national parks – and then had dropped all further references to the issue in the campaign. Dan also expressed his opinion that parks should be an especially attractive issue for Republicans as it provides an important link to the growing Hispanic vote, a key target of Republican strategists.

Geoff Garin, a top Democratic advisor, noted that more than 80% of all campaign messaging in the 2012 elections was negative – and opined that perhaps it was better that parks were not raised in that kind of a climate. He also noted that issues, including parks, needed “handles” and expressed his belief that the 2016 Centennial of the National Park Service was a great opportunity to move from latent support to active support. He commented that a remarkable number of Americans express willingness to volunteer for parks, and to make financial contributions – at a rate far higher than willingness to support other national causes with more current political potency. He also noted that the survey demonstrated that very few Americans know much about the needs of parks. When information about budget threats to parks was offered during the survey, support for parks ratcheted up – suggesting that Great Outdoors supporters need to be much more active in explaining the threats now facing parks.

Tom Kiernan, President of the National Parks Conservation Association and leader of a council comprised of the nation’s top national conservation executives, reiterated the challenges parks face from “fiscal cliffs” and general pressure on discretionary domestic spending – noting that the NPS budget has declined 6% in the past two years. He and Derrick Crandall then led conversations with the guests about ways to apply the survey findings to the governance process – using popular support to bring about bipartisan agreement on both traditional funding with appropriations and crafting new tools, like challenge-funding programs.

There were numerous questions from the audience, including the relationship between support for parks and support for other federal land systems, including national forests and national wildlife refuges. Of particular interest to the group was the topic of identifying and supporting champions for parks and the Great Outdoors issues. The three consultants shared a strong belief that there are champions and potential champions. But champions are built, they told us – with ideas, with awards, with use of communications channels and with involvement in the political process.

The December Recreation Exchange participants gathered at a remarkable venue – the brand new Washington, DC, offices of McDermott Will & Emery. The offices overlook Capitol Hill and Union Station.

For those unable to be at the Recreation Exchange, a video of the session is available here.

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Recreation relies on an army of businesses – running ski areas and campgrounds, marinas and rafting companies, selling recreation goods and more. And most of these businesses are assessing what healthcare reform means for them and their employees. Kudos to the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association for helping its members across the country understand the requirements of the new national law through a professional webinar – which is available to you to view at:

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More than 100 recreation community leaders from across the nation and representing public and private organizations key to enjoyment of public lands and waters will soon gather at Partners Outdoors 2013 on February 19-21. Meeting at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, participants will focus on three important topics: 1) innovative and supplementary funding for recreation sites and operations on federal lands and waters; 2) opportunities to attract international visitors to America's Great Outdoors and assist both the economy and understanding of American values; and 3) using the recent transportation legislation known as MAP-21 and more to support access to and travel through America's Great Outdoors.

Confirmed speakers and Action Team Leaders include USDA Under Secretary Harris Sherman, OMB Interior Branch Chief Craig Crutchfield, FHWA Associate Administrator Joyce Curtis, BLM Acting Deputy Director Janine Velasco and Interior’s Director of Intergovernmental and External Affairs Gail Adams.

Participants will use videoconferencing, off-site speakers, pre-recorded presentations and interactive, multiple-site discussions to explore the three core issues and creative efforts underway. The program will also maximize use of traditional face-to face discussions and networking opportunities to shape recommendations for senior federal agency and private sector recreation community leaders. Partners Outdoors 2013 will conclude with a presentation to the Federal Interagency Council on Outdoor Recreation (FICOR), comprised of agency heads key to meeting America’s outdoor fun needs, by video-link on action recommendations. For further information, contact Catherine Ahern, Partners Outdoors Coordinator, at

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Are you willing to join in a conversation about a potential recreation and conservation community initiative that could support critical existing federal lands efforts and allow for new progress in meeting the recreation needs of 21st Century America?

Consider the impact of a one cent increase in the federal motorfuel tax earmarked to support recreation and conservation on federal lands and waters. Yes, there is already support for recreation from federal motorfuel taxes – aiding boating, fishing and aquatic resource programs through the Sportfish Restoration and Boating Safety Account, and for trails under the Recreational Trails Program, and for transportation in national parks and national wildlife refuges. Imagine now that we build on that with a Penny for Parks, or Penny for the Great Outdoors, initiative.

The concept is simple. An additional one cent federal tax on motorfuel would generate some $1.5 billion annually and sustainably. The funds could be invested in efforts that support recreational experiences on federally-managed lands, activities now well understood to generate important economic, health and social benefits. Funds could be used to enhance access to federal lands and waters and to support the infrastructure of trails, beaches, visitor centers and more which are key to great experiences.

Roads on federal lands are especially important. They are vital to bringing people to recreation sites and dispersing visitors. And unlike virtually all other public roads in America, roads on America's public lands receive no funding from the state motorfuel tax levied on gasoline sold at the retail level. For the estimated four million miles of interstates, primary and secondary routes, these state taxes fund 20% of road construction and reconstruction and nearly all maintenance and operations. Yet roads vital to Americans seeking to access campgrounds, trailheads, beaches and rivers and lakes on federal lands depend upon appropriated federal dollars from the beleaguered domestic discretionary pot for operation and maintenance.

There are many obstacles to securing these new funds. Although we characterize motorfuel taxes as a user fee, the idea of anything that in any way resembles a new tax has been radioactive for years. The federal motorfuel tax today in 18.4 cents – unchanged for nearly 20 years. And any use of the federal motorfuel tax for purposes other than traditional highway programs will encounter resistance from those focused on failing bridges, congestion and safety concerns.

But we have an opening and a reason to believe that our efforts can attract support. First, Americans support parks and the Great Outdoors broadly – R and D alike – and see a federal role as appropriate. Whether appealing to the economic prospects of better access, or the support for not closing parks and other parts of the Great Outdoors for budget reasons, or linking better access to more physical activity and better health, the recreation community can sell with passion the benefits of increased spending on the Great Outdoors. And there are those in the transportation arena who see hope that an overture by the recreation community could help catalyze action on a broader look at motorfuel taxes – something widely regarded as necessary as Congress begins to again address a long-term surface transportation program for FY 2015 and beyond. Few think the Congress is likely to continue appropriating billions annually in general funds to sustain current transportation funding levels.

The likelihood that motorfuel taxes will be discussed over the next year is high. Falling gasoline prices make this discussion much less radioactive. And the re-emergence of the Simpson-Bowles recommendations, which included an increase of 15 cents in the federal motorfuel tax rate, improves prospects.

There is a strong argument that recreation and conservation community leaders should be proactive here, and not wait until the issue is actively debated and then try to make our case.

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Recreation has played a role in the national forests since the earliest days of this wonderful, unique system of lands and waters. Opportunities for recreation lure millions of Americans annually – and also large numbers of visitors to our nation. The importance of diverse, world-class recreation opportunities has found new understanding in the 21st Century – fortunate because changes in recreation preferences and fundamental shifts in federal capabilities make this awareness and support for innovative new ways to develop and operate recreational infrastructure critical. The solutions to seizing opportunities – like the National Strategy on Travel and Tourism and new awareness of the importance of reversing a trend toward physical inactivity and medical problems linked to obesity – open the door to innovation, to adapting, to learning from successes and to new collaboration and partnerships.

In March of 2012, USDA Under Secretary Harris Sherman challenged recreation leaders to help the Forest Service adapt and continue its legacy as a premier provider of recreation. He called upon the recreation community to find sustainable alternatives to federal appropriations for recreation infrastructure development, maintenance and operations, and also called for a new sensitivity for ways to make recreation efforts synergistic with other important agency missions. In discussions with the Under Secretary, Forest Service officials and the recreation community, several areas of consensus emerged.

First, there are many creative adaptations already taking place within the national forest system. Ski areas are expanding to serve as year-round gateways to the forests. Legislation allowing fee retention has sustained recreation areas in many ranger districts. Gateway communities are more involved in forest recreation programs.

Second, the Forest Service has significant authority to manage recreation in lieu of providing recreation services directly, and in many cases the authorities are not being used widely.

Third, the Forest Service has a great number of current and potential partners in state and local governments, the nonprofit community, in the tourism and recreation industries, in other federal agencies and in emerging partners in the medical and educational fields. Especially appealing are new and expanded cooperative ventures with conservation corps comprised of youth and veterans and with destination marketing organizations for communities near national forests.

Fourth, recreation efforts in national forests can be linked to broad forest health and environmental services programs by the agency – from guest donation programs generating funds to volunteer programs to reductions in energy use with in-season storage of RVs and boats.

And fifth, investments are needed for the national forests to provide world-class recreation opportunities which produce the experiences which connect Americans and international visitors with the land and our nation. Campgrounds and marinas are prime targets and in many cases can become national forest recreation centers which successfully expand access to diverse recreation opportunities in and near national forests.

ARC has now submitted to the Forest Service its recommendations for pilots in this effort with exciting progress expected in the not-too-distant future.

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