Recreation and Public Lands

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To ensure the growth and success of the outdoor recreation economy, our public lands and waters need adequate funding to support the recreation infrastructure that is enjoyed by 142 million American outdoor enthusiasts every year. America’s outdoor recreation infrastructure are everything from local trails and bike paths to remote wilderness and from wild rivers and scenic waterways to coastlines and forests.

Outdoor recreation helps support thousands of communities near these special places by fostering economic development, providing much-needed revenue for local service industries and contributing to the health and quality of life for every citizen.

OIA’s Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Focus

CamperIn 2015, OIA is focused on funding investments in urban, close-to-home and backcountry recreation through these programs and initiatives:

  • Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)
  • Federal budget appropriations for the National Park Service Centennial
  • Wildfire mitigation funding through the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act
  • Ensuring fees collected on public lands are used for recreation enhancements through the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act
  • Working with federal agencies on community parks, green spaces and transportation programs that grow and protect outdoor recreation opportunities

OIA is also working on policies to improve access for outdoor recreation from the

backyard to the backcountry by:

  • Promoting a better federal process for guides, outfitters, nonprofits and education groups to get people outside
  • Working with appropriate agencies on federal land use plans that balance the interests of a diversity of recreation users while protecting recreation assets through legislation and executive designations

Funding Background

In order for outdoor recreation to continue to grow jobs and drive the economy, the infrastructure that supports this system needs to be taken as seriously as the infrastructure that supports our transportation or telecommunications systems. Despite the positive economic and quality of life impacts of outdoor recreation, policymakers continue to neglect our nation’s natural assets and fail to invest in their preservation.

Rec_infographicThe Bottom Line

We must help Congress recognize the importance of these places and the return on investment that recreation infrastructure provides. Additional funding will result in better access to recreation for more participants, better facilities to support use and education and an overall stronger outdoor recreation economy, nationally and locally.

We must also work with the federal agencies to formally count outdoor recreation jobs and our industry’s contribution to the national Gross Domestic Product, just as they do for other industries, so we can show that protecting America’s parks, waters and trails isn’t just about the land and water itself, but it’s also about protecting the economy, promoting healthy communities and supporting people whose livelihoods depend on outdoor recreation.

National Park Service Centennial

Funding for national parks is a fundamental issue for America’s large and growing outdoor recreation community. The country’s more than 400 national park units offer America’s top natural, historic and cultural assets and serve as an economic powerhouse with iconic outdoor recreation experiences for nearly 300 million visitors each year. Park visitation generates $31 billion annually for local economies across the country, and every dollar invested in the parks generates ten dollars in economic activity, supporting more than a quarter million jobs annually.

Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)

Last year marked the 50th anniversary of LWCF, one of America’s most important tools for protecting federal lands and for creating and enhancing state and local parks, working forests and wildlife areas. This year the program expires, and can no longer be used for recreation and conservation purposes, if Congress does not reauthorize it.

LWCF is a bipartisan program put into law in 1965 when Congress agreed that a small portion of federal leasing revenues from energy development on the Outer Continental Shelf (of which revenues have averaged $6.7 billion in each of the past five years) be reinvested in American communities. Authorized to receive $900 million annually, money meant for this program continues to be diverted for unauthorized purposes, vanishing each year into the general fund of the Treasury. Full and dedicated funding is needed for LWCF to fulfill its promise to protect local, state and federal outdoor recreation and natural areas in America and improve access to public lands for recreation purposes.


Hotter, longer and more severe wildfires across the country are not only impacting recreation by closing trails and depleting watersheds, but the way that the government budgets for wildfires is also having a negative impact on outdoor recreation. When land management agencies run out of fire suppression dollars, they have to take money from meager recreation and trail management budgets, making managing normal day-to-day operations for the agencies and their partners extremely challenging and, at times, impossible. In order to resolve these conflicts, extreme wildfires need to be treated as natural disasters and managed as such through a federal disaster account.

Legislation introduced by Representatives Simpson and Schrader and Senators Wyden and Crapo fixes this problem. The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (WDFA) does two things: 

  1. Continues to make sure firefighters have the resources they need
  2. Ensures Forest Service and Department of Interior projects, such as trail maintenance, stream restoration and hazardous fuels treatments, do not lose their funding in years when firefighting budgets are exceeded due to extreme fire seasons (which has occurred eight times since 2000)


Outdoor recreation, education and outfitting providers are focused on offering immersive experiences that provide individuals, children and their families with the opportunity to experience public lands in a sustainable and exciting way. Current processes for administering special recreation permits are not sufficiently flexible to accommodate evolving uses of public lands and waters by a wide range of user groups, even though the federal agency’s mission is to get more people outside to enjoy our public lands.