The outdoor recreation industry celebrated its transition to adulthood last week as governor-selected chieftains from eight states signed a first-ever proclamation promising to follow a shared ethic championing outdoor recreation as a path to prosperity.
The Confluence Accords outlined a roadmap for the states to promote conservation and stewardship of lands, support environmental education and outdoor workforce development, foster a sustainable outdoor economy and deploy outdoor play as a way to improve public health. The agreement not only marked a first for an industry exploring newfound political and economic muscle, but also highlighted a rare moment of bipartisan agreement in an age of relentless red-versus-blue bickering.
The directors of outdoor recreation offices from Colorado, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming have spent more than a year hammering out the accords with the hope of creating a national platform of states promoting outdoor recreation as the engine that can fuel economic vitality in rural America.
Outdoor recreation’s G8 — backed by Outdoor Industry Association reports showing the outdoor recreation economy driving $887 billion in consumer spending and supporting 7 million jobs — hope to recruit even more states to the outdoors-are-the-answer mission.
“I never saw a good idea I didn’t want to steal.”
“I always say in public policy I never saw a good idea I didn’t want to steal. I hope other states look at all of us and say the same thing,” said Jon Snyder, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s first adviser on outdoor recreation and economic development. “There are lot of folks who want to turn every issue possible into something polarizing. What you see here, and what’s different now that you have eight states that are on every point of the political spectrum in this country coming together, is a fight to keep outdoor recreation bipartisan.”
Colorado was the second state — after Utah — to establish an outdoor recreation office. Luis Benitez heads that office. He was a driving force in forging the Confluence Accords. He corralled an array of state governors — both Republican and Democrat — to acknowledge the importance of outdoor recreation.
“I challenge you to name another industry in the United States that has bipartisan states who have put pen to paper and have agreed upon shared, best-practice principles for a guiding light forward for a multi-billion-dollar economy,” Benitez said after signing the accords from the rooftop of downtown hotel on July. 25.
Still, finding agreement required some compromise.
“But honestly it was really more about collaboration,” said Rachel VandeVoort, the inaugural director of the Montana Office of Outdoor Recreation. “I was surprised how easy it was for all of us to find these common goals. As much as we compromised on this or that, there was much more collaboration. This shows that the outdoor recreation industry and public lands actually can be this unifying force across any party boundaries.”
This story first appeared in The Colorado Sun’s newsletter, The Sunriser. You can subscribe here: cosun.co/thesunriser