Saturday, October 01, 2022

‘America’s Outdoor Recreation Act’ would help Montana’s economy

by Lise Aangeenbrug
| July 21, 2022 12:00 AM

It’s no secret that Montanans are passionate about the great outdoors. With eight national parks bringing visitors from around the globe to the Treasure State, outdoor recreation drives the state’s economy, accounting for 4.3 percent of the state’s GDP – the highest percent of any U.S. state. Beyond Montana’s borders, Americans are enjoying outdoor recreation in record numbers, with more than 50 percent of Americans participating at least once in 2020. There is no better time for historic legislation to improve and expand outdoor recreation opportunities, and thankfully, Senator Steve Daines’ leadership on the America’s Outdoor Recreation Act, is doing just that.

This landmark measure would provide much-needed federal support for Montana’s natural heritage, local outdoor recreation economies, and way of life for many hard-working families. The rate at which Americans are flocking to the great outdoors does not show any signs of slowing down. Between 2019 and 2020 alone, visitation at Montana’s state parks jumped nearly 30 percent and Yellowstone National Park, despite park closures, posted strong visitation numbers, with monthly numbers being the busiest on record. With increased foot, bike, and boat traffic, legislation like America’s Outdoor Recreation Act is imperative to providing necessary investments to protect and preserve our federal lands for generations to come.

Montana gets its nickname the “Treasure State” for its natural resources and beautiful landscapes, but the economic impact of the outdoor recreation industry cannot be overstated. From the geysers of Yellowstone to the peaks of Glacier National Park – the latter of which attracted approximately 3 million visitors just last year – Montana’s natural beauty drives a $2.2 billion outdoor industry. America’s Outdoor Recreation Act would cut regulatory red tape by allowing park-goers greater access to permits and reservations, provide federal funding for outdoor infrastructure and cycling paths, invest in data that would extend the outdoor recreation season, and devote resources to make sure that communities and local employees receive proper training. The outdoor industry encompasses 5.4 percent of Montana’s total employment, and bills like this will make sure that local economies can continue to thrive.

The outdoor industry is not only a vital part of Montana’s culture and economy but is also extremely important to the ongoing health and well-being of our communities. Green spaces provide numerous physical and mental benefits, but unfortunately more than 100 million Americans do not live in walking distance to a green space. Studies find that separation from nature is detrimental to human development and can increase mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and stress. Equity in the outdoors must be achieved so all Americans can prosper from its benefits. Thankfully, this proposal addresses necessary investments to close this gap, bringing outdoor spaces closer to American families regardless of zip code.

As Americans seek solace in the outdoors and visitation at national parks surpasses pre-pandemic levels, appreciation for the outdoors must be met with parallel legislation that will uplift the industry and outdoor economies for decades to come. The America’s Outdoor Recreation Act will be a vital step forward and the outdoor industry thanks Senator Daines for his leadership in supporting this key legislation.

Lise Aangeenbrug is executive director of the Outdoor Industry Association.

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