The National Governors Association (NGA) announced the launch of the Outdoor Recreation Learning Network to help governors and their staffs leverage their natural, cultural and historical resources to advance economic, workforce, health and environmental benefits.

According to a press release, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates that the outdoors industry employed more than 4.5 million people nationally in 2016, and generated more than $730 billion in economic impact.

NGA Solutions will partner with state outdoor recreation directors through the network to convene governors’ office staffs and other state officials. Through peer-to-peer exchanges, the network will spotlight strategies that states can use to advance outdoor recreation. It will focus on key issue areas, including conservation, stewardship, education, workforce training, economic development, infrastructure, public health, equity and wellness.

“Utah launched the first state outdoor recreation office in 2013 to focus on recreation management, support recreation businesses and ensure that our state’s cherished natural assets can sustain economic growth for years to come,” said Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who noted that outdoor recreation contributes $12.3 billion to the Utah economy and employs more than 110,000 people.

Since Utah’s action, more than a dozen states have created outdoor recreation offices. Additional states are creating task forces, councils or taking other steps to promote the outdoor recreation economy. The NGA Outdoor Recreation Learning Network is intended to help other states replicate Utah’s success while tailoring it to their own circumstances and needs.

“From hunting to fishing to hiking and the many other activities in between, Maine people have been enjoying our vast natural resources for generations,” said Maine Governor Janet Mills, whose state established an outdoor recreation office in October 2018. “Experiencing and protecting the outdoors is an integral part of our cultural heritage, it is who we are as a people, and it is a cornerstone of our state’s economy. I am excited that Maine is joining the NGA’s Outdoor Recreation Learning Network as we continue to promote our state’s unparalleled recreational opportunities and support job creation and economic growth, particularly in rural Maine.”

Governors launched the network at NGA’s annual Summer Meeting, where state leaders share best practices and hear from experts in various fields. This year, the meeting is being held in Salt Lake City from July 24-26. In addition to Gov. Herbert and Gov. Mills, participants included Oregon Governor Kate Brown, Vermont Governor Phil Scott, Montana Governor Steve Bullock, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak and outdoor recreation directors from many states. The launch was held at the Natural History Museum of Utah’s Rio Tinto Center at the University of Utah and included a guided walk in nearby Red Butte Garden featuring a narration by Dr. David Strayer of the University of Utah, a leading researcher in the cognitive benefits of outdoor recreation.

The founding sponsors of the Outdoor Recreation Learning Network include REI Co-op the Outdoor Industry Association and the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (ORR).

“Outdoor recreation is a crucial part of America’s economy, contributing 2.2% of the gross domestic product and growing faster than the economy as a whole,” said Jessica Wahl, president of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable. “ORR is proud to partner with the National Governors Association to launch the game-changing Outdoor Recreation Learning Network. This partnership will ensure that the outdoor recreation sector has the support it needs to continue to grow in states across the country, providing outdoor access for all, jobs, and health and quality-of life benefits for generations to come.”