Defining and Creating a National Recreational Lakes Program

On June 13, 1995, members of the American Recreation Coalition and guests discussed the merit of a proposal to create a national Recreational Lakes Program. While united in support of the system, and convinced that changes underway at such key agencies as the Bureau of Reclamation, the Corps of Engineers and the Tennessee Valley Authority make the prospects for such a system good, the participants concluded that it was premature to be precise in terms of the extent of the system, the scope of lakes to be considered for inclusion or the specific objectives of the program. The following policy statement was developed by those participants and revised and approved by the ARC Board of Directors:

America has a vast and diverse array of lakes serving the nation in many ways. One of the important uses is recreation -- from swimming to fishing, boating to wildlife viewing, windsurfing to picnicking, trails and trailheads for motorized and non-motorized enthusiasts alike and much more. Lake management involves federal, state and local agencies as well as private interests. Present public policies often do not encourage maximum recreational enjoyment of these lakes or adequately acknowledge current recreational uses of the lakes and their surroundings, despite the strong attraction Americans have to water -- and lands adjacent to the water -- for recreational activities. At many federally-managed lakes, this is attributable to purposes assigned to the agencies by the Congress decades ago, often with just minor consideration to recreation purposes. The problem at lakes with significant federal land ownership is compounded by budgetary constraints which make capital investments in needed recreation facilities ranging from campgrounds to boat launching facilities, from beach areas to trails and more very unlikely.

To remedy these challenges and to stimulate consensus among public and private organizations with an interest in shaping recreational opportunities . in the vicinity of these lakes, federal agencies and states would be invited to seek voluntary designation by the Secretary of the Interior as national recreational lakes. Designation would be dependent upon a management plan supported by the public and relevant public agencies. Such a plan would address such issues including: maintaining and improving access for current visitors, development of appropriate recreation facilities (typically through public/private partnerships), management of diverse uses of the lake and its surroundings (including a fisheries management plan) and special zoning and taxation policies. Emphasis would be on encouraging appropriate private sector investment in water-dependent recreational enterprises.

The national recreation lakes system offers several alternatives. It might, in fact, be broadened to become a national lakes system, incorporating lakes with national-caliber assets in addition to recreation. In this way, lakes could be recognized for natural and scenic, recreational, historical or other purposes. On the other hand, the concept could be limited to only those man-made lakes now under federal control.

A one year study is needed to evaluate these alternatives, to solicit the views and perspectives of all those potentially involved in or affected by a national recreational lakes program and to recommend to the Congress specific actions to be taken and clear goals for such a program. The study would be performed by an interagency team drawn from the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Corps of Engineers. Other federal agencies, including the Forest Service, BLM and the National Park Service, should also be asked to assist. An advisory committee comprised of designated federal and private sector representatives could be charged with making the final recommendations to the Congress. In addition, the study should actively involve such private sector organizations as the American Recreation Coalition, the American Sportfishing Association, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, representatives of appropriate state agencies, the Travel Industry Association of America and other recreation and conservation organizations with an interest in the proposed designations. The study would be modeled after that undertaken by the U.S. Department of Transportation in 1990 to consider the feasibility and design of a national scenic byways program, a study which guided Congressional action creating the byways program in December 1991.

In developing recommendations, the study should assess the effect of other federal designation programs on public access and agency funding priorities and suggest ways to eliminate any potential unintended consequences of the national recreational lakes designations which might reduce diverse recreational opportunities.

To pursue the study and further definition of the national recreation lakes initiative, an ARC task force jointly chaired by TVA and NMMA representatives is created and shall develop a strategic plan for the initiative.

April 8, 1996: Version 3