It sometimes feels difficult to remember life before COVID-19. Almost overnight, our lives and priorities shifted dramatically. Yet it was only a few short months ago that lawmakers in Washington were focused on the myriad other issues Americans still want and need addressed beyond the scope of the pandemic.

One of these was the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act, spearheaded by Colorado’s own Sen. Cory Gardner, supported by Sen. Michael Bennet and 57 other senators, and backed by President Trump who has said he will sign the bill into law if passed.

Now, thanks to the outdoor recreation focus of Sen. Gardner, the Senate Majority Leader says a vote on this “milestone achievement to secure public lands and ensure their upkeep well into the future” will happen in June.

Lise Aangeenbrug and Layne Rigney

As we look for escape from the stress of our current situation, many are turning to the outdoors to protect their physical and mental health. Passing the Great American Outdoors Act, which will provide dedicated funding to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and resources to reduce the maintenance backlog on our public lands, is all the more relevant now that public demand for outdoor recreation is up.

Along with the social and health benefits that being outdoors provides, there is also a strong economic case for doing this now. Investing in LWCF means investing in local economies and creating thousands of jobs – both of which we desperately need right now to help Colorado bounce back from COVID-19. 

Outdoor recreation has long been a force for the U.S. economy, generating 7.6 million jobs and $887 billion in consumer spending annually. Nowhere is that truer than in Colorado. Coloradans fundamentally understand that while outdoor recreation supports health and contributes to a higher quality of life, it also attracts and sustains employers and families.

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In our state, the industry creates nearly four times as many direct jobs (229,000) as the oil and gas industry (39,000) and the mining industry (19,000) combined. These jobs support $9.7 billion in wages and $2 billion in state and local tax revenue – funds that in turn help to pay the wages of firefighters, police officers, teachers and other vital public employees that make Colorado’s communities great places to live.

Osprey Packs, a Cortez, Colorado-based company employs more than 100 people. To address the pressing needs of the health and business crisis, Osprey quickly responded by converting sewing facilities to mask production for local health care workers and those in the Navajo Nation.

They also launched a program to help retailers recoup lost revenue. For select technical packs purchased on the website and taken to a local retailer for a fitting, Osprey will credit retailers back 15% of the product sale. 

While the organization has been materially impacted by COVID-19, and forced to make hard business decisions, we also have strong hope for the business to rebound if people can continue to go outside to recreate with friends and family safely and responsibly.

By signaling their desire to pass the Great American Outdoors Act, the Senate is acknowledging our public lands and waters as a staple of Colorado’s economy and our way of life.

It is not the only step we should take to strengthen the outdoors’ role in recovery. The Outdoor Industry Association along with more than 60 companies recently sent a letter to Congress outlining several more policy suggestions.

For example, expanding the Civilian Conservation Corps could provide jobs to Americans – especially young people – newly in need of work while restoring our public lands.

We are fortunate that Sen. Gardner was able to get others in Washington, D.C., to see the outdoors for what it is – a respite and a boon for business. The outdoor recreation industry is hard at work to ensure returning to life as “normal” means families and communities are supported by the benefits of the outdoors. Thankfully, we are closing in on a landmark victory for the outdoors and all Coloradans.

Lise Aangeenbrug is Executive Director of Outdoor Industry Association and Layne Rigney is CEO of Osprey Packs.

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