ORIR and USDA Officials Discuss Improving Visitor Experiences on National Forests

ORIR and USDA Officials Discuss Improving Visitor Experiences on National Forests

Leaders from several Outdoor Recreation Industry Roundtable (ORIR) organizations met with Acting Under Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and the Environment Dan Jiron and a key group of USDA officials, including many from the U.S. Forest Service (FS), on November 21. The ORIR group highlighted the importance of national forests to many world-class recreation experiences including boating, fishing, skiing, riding and much more. They emphasized that partnerships in recreation experiences are key to expanding access to – and enjoyment of – America’s public lands and waters.

Under Secretary Jiron was in full agreement, and expressed a commitment to moving quickly to improve visitor experiences on national forests. He assured the group that Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue is a strong advocate for outdoor recreation, and invited everyone to view the Secretary’s recent message regarding the national forests, available here.

Connectivity and easy access to accurate and up-to-date information about recreation opportunities were topics of particular interest to Under Secretary Jiron. He actively invited ideas for ways to overcome communications problems that stifle interest from younger, urban, tech-savvy Americans. Meeting participants highlighted a new pilot program providing access to broadband internet – already underway at some National Park Service sites – as a potential solution to this problem. For more information on these efforts, click here. They described existing programs like Agents of Discovery as new ways to deliver interpretation and education to younger visitors and applauded the national leadership being provided by the FS.

ORIR officials identified modernization of recreation resources as one area where increased partnerships could make an immediate positive impact. The ORIR participants praised the FS partnership with winter permit holders and the resulting world-class opportunities. They described opportunities to use existing and expanded FS authorities for resorts to improve and expand roads, trails, boat launches, marinas, campgrounds, equipment rentals and more. Pilot actions are ready to proceed and can quickly improve visitor experiences. Modification and reauthorization of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) was also discussed as a way to support operations and maintain crucial infrastructure.

Participants also provided an update on the Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account, and praised the Forest Service’s involvement in programs like National Get Outdoors Day – part of Great Outdoors Month® – as essential to introducing Americans to healthy, active outdoor fun close to home. The Under Secretary described his personal involvement in Denver’s National Get Outdoors Day events, and celebrated the participation of Colorado’s Governor, the Mayor of Denver and other civic leaders. He noted the proven success of the day in building awareness of and excitement about the opportunities which abound a short distance away from the state’s urban centers.

ORIR representatives shared information about partnership efforts now underway with the U.S. Department of the Interior, including proposals to reduce the maintenance backlog with private investments, a new “Made in America” Recreation Advisory Committee now soliciting nominations and the appointment of a new internal Recreation Champion reporting directly to the Interior Secretary to spur partnerships and address key issues.

The group agreed that the costs of fighting wildfires needs a national fix that allows more cost effective and productive forest management.

The meeting ended with an agreement to plan further meetings involving the department’s leadership and its recreation partners focusing on action steps, overcoming barriers to partnerships and improving rural prosperity.

Organizations taking part in the meeting included the American Sportfishing Association, Boat Owners Association of The United States, National Marine Manufacturers Association, National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council, Motorcycle Industry Council, American Recreation Coalition and the Great Outdoors Month Council.