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Outdoor Recreation, America’s Medicine For Recovery

Photo: Courtesy of Jon Flobrant

Lise Aangeenbrug

Executive Director, Outdoor Industry Association

As our country works to address concurrent economic, public health, social and climate crises, the great outdoors can help individuals and communities build back better.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, stay-at-home families found respite in the out-of-home places that the CDC declared safe: back yards, neighborhood parks, greenbelts, hiking trails, campsites. We became reacquainted with the immeasurable value of close-to-home outdoor recreation infrastructure. Individuals and families rediscovered the healing power of open space, blue skies, and fresh air.

Before long, many people ventured farther, road-tripping to state and national parks. In 2020, 69 percent of Americans reported a newfound appreciation for the outdoors’ ability to combat the mental, physical, and emotional effects caused by lockdowns. Whether it was solitude or conviviality we craved, we found it outside. Camping participation saw a 28 percent year-over-year increase in 2020; 8.1 million more Americans hiked than in the previous year; and freshwater fishing grew by 8.6 percent.

What followed was a growing awareness among communities, businesses, agencies, and policymakers that the benefits of the outdoors extend beyond personal and public health. While other industries were devastated, the outdoor recreation sector emerged as the one poised to help drive America’s economic recovery amid the pandemic.

And even as the country now grapples with crises that are often positioned at odds with one another, COVID-19 and climate change, outdoor recreation remains a bipartisan issue with great potential to help alleviate both crises.

Taking a stand

The government should take urgent action to invest in infrastructure projects that ensure equitable access to the outdoors and the preservation of our nation’s forests, lakes, trails, oceans, and rivers. Forests have the potential to absorb the equivalent of all emissions from U.S. vehicles. We support 30×30 initiatives at the state and federal level to protect 30 percent of America’s public lands and waters by 2030.

The private sector must also step up. The Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) worked closely with the Biden-Harris transition team to identify the levers our industry is uniquely positioned to pull in order to meet the 30×30 goal while simultaneously driving America’s economic recovery with a focus on outdoor equity and sustainability.

Through our philanthropic arm, the Outdoor Foundation, we work to make the outdoors accessible, welcoming, and safe for all. This is especially critical at a time when we know the pandemic and climate change disproportionately affect communities that have traditionally experienced barriers to getting outside. Through OIA’s Climate Action Corps, our member companies are doing their part to bring private-sector solutions to the climate crisis by committing to measure, plan, and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and share their progress annually.

The pandemic and the climate crisis might still be with us, but so too are the incredible natural resources that can help our communities and economies build back better. The great outdoors is calling, and we must answer.

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