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Recreation leaders from state and federal government agencies, as well as private-sector partners – including a member of the Outdoor Recreation Industry Roundtable (ORIR) – helped members of Congress better understand how to improve visitor experiences on America’s public lands and waters during a Congressional hearing on April 5. 

According to a statement, the U.S. House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Interior, Energy and Environment held a hearing, “Improving Visitor Experiences in National Parks.” The session examined the operation of visitor services programs around the country and discussed whether those programs’ practices and reforms, which are driving increases in visitation, should be adopted by the National Park Service (NPS) and other federal agencies. 

Key witnesses included Rick Cables, vice president of Natural Resources and Conservation for Vail Resorts; Glenn Casamassa, associate deputy chief of the U.S. Forest Service; ORIR member Chris Edmonston, vice president of government affairs for BoatU.S.; and Linda Lanterman, director of Kansas State Parks.

Highlights included:

  • Subcommittee Chairman Blake Farenthold, R-Texas opened the session, examining the role of private companies – concessioners – and their failure to meet the changing demands of its visitors. “By providing up-to-date technology, contemporary food and beverage services, comfortable and modern places to stay, and unique visitor experiences, our parks become more attractive. Concessioners are in a position to help provide these services while providing needed funding to the park service.”
  • Edmonston highlighted the importance of boaters’ access to America’s public lands and waters, saying, “Reflecting on the visitor experience in national parks provides an opportunity to consider how important access to the water is to boaters…Providing appropriate access is crucial to the long term political and financial support for national parks and other public lands.”
  • Cables stressed the importance of investment in recreation resources saying, “Our strategy is to continuously reinvest in all of our resorts to maintain a premier guest experience and our leadership position, with both capital investments on our mountains and in our resort communities.”
  • Lanterman provided examples of how Kansas State Parks – which receives no state general funds – meets the challenges of operating a primarily fee-based state park system. She also noted the importance of addressing changing needs and expectations of customers.

Full written testimony can be found at www.funoutdoors.com/OGRTestimony.  Video of the hearing can be found here.