As the executive director of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (ORR) — a diverse coalition of 30 national outdoor trade associations that represent biking, fishing, hiking, park concessionaires and all forms of mechanized recreation — Jessica Wahl is the voice of the growing outdoor recreation industry.
Representing more than 100,000 businesses in the recreation economy, the ORR has gathered the recreation community’s often disparate voices into a unified call for federal policies supporting the $887 billion industry.
The Colorado Sun caught up with Wahl — who worked for the Department of the Interior and the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) before joining ORR in late 2018 — during the Outdoor Retailer Snow Show.
Sun: What are some of the political and legislative hallmarks of the outdoor industry’s growth and maturation in the last year, year-and-a-half? I’ve heard many in the industry say this has been the best year ever for recreation at the federal level. True?
Jessica Wahl: Yes. The public lands package is one. I saw the industry come together in a way I have never seen. In the final months of things coming together there were things in there that motorized could have been really upset about. There were things that some non-motorized groups didn’t like. There was some access that was cut off, there were some trails that were moved, but … we all got behind it and I think that was instrumental to getting it passed. When (Wyoming’s U.S. Rep.) Liz Cheney hears ‘Oh wait the OHVers and motorcyclists think that, as a whole, this is good for recreation and so do the surfers and climbers and cyclists’ … that makes a difference. So we started the year with a win.
Also getting the BEA study funded. (The first-time analysis of recreation by the Bureau of Economic Analysis measured the industry’s contribution as 2.2% of the national GDP and last year was permanently funded as an annual review.) We had a lot of members working really hard on that, going into legislator offices saying the study is great, we need a line item, it needs to be annual. The only way we can really be peer-to-peer with other industries is if we get the annual data that they have (that allows them to) track and say, ‘Oh my gosh, oil and gas jobs are down.’ Well now we can say, ‘Oh my gosh, recreation jobs are up again. Let’s pay attention to that.’
Three years from now, when we look to see if these (China) tariffs had an impact, we will be able to look at the data and see it and relate it and we will be able to say ‘Look this is why we said we need a trade deal.’
Some of the smaller things include the Recreation Trails Program (RTP). For the first time, we got a study on that RTP, looking at infrastructure for all trails, horseback, motorized, nonmotorized, hiking, everything. All the funding for RTP comes from a fuel tax on motorized vehicles and so we know the fuel tax coming in is much higher than what is going out to trails. This is the first time we got a study that is going to show the government how much is coming in, so then we have a number to fight for and say ‘Well actually, motorized guys are putting in $800 million and we are only getting $200 million into trails,’ that’s another way the industry is really coming together. You see the American Hiking Society next to the ATVers next to the horseback riders because they all care about this funding so much.
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