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Governors bonded over the outdoors

The National Governors Association launched the Outdoor Recreation Learning Network.

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Almost four years ago, outdoor recreation directors from Utah, Washington, and Colorado met in a little Italian cafe in Salt Lake City, Utah, during Outdoor Retailer. Cailin O’Brien-Feeney, formerly of Outdoor Industry Association and now Oregon’s director, was also there. At the time, there were the only three states with such an office. But they discussed their wishes of one day having more peers in the movement touting their own outdoor activities and economic growth.

Faster than they anticipated, those dreams are reality. As of this month, 15 states have established offices to promote and grow their respective outdoor recreation economies and more are expected to join this year.

“Between Luis [Benitez, Colorado’s former director] and I at the time, we had probably spoken about the offices in everywhere from Hawaii to France, so the message caught on,” said Tom Adams, director of the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation.

David Weinstein, OIA, at the NGA Outdoor Recreation Learning Network
David Weinstein, of Outdoor Industry Association, speaks at the launch event for the Outdoor Recreation Learning Network. OIA, REI, and Outdoor Recreation Roundtable are founding sponsors of the network.Courtesy

To keep up with all the developments, the National Governors Association (NGA) formed the Outdoor Recreation Learning Network, which launched last week during the organization’s annual conference. The network will help governors explore how outdoor recreation can improve their state’s economy and public health, and share best practices.

Office directors also have an organization of their own called the Confluence of States, which was created earlier this year. So far, eight states have signed the Confluence Accords, a somewhat constitution of shared political principles. 

“If you talk to any governor about NGA, it really gives them accessibility to one another in this great rolodex of resources,” Adams said. “That’s what this will create for all the other states that are coming onboard. They will have us at their fingertips.”

Last week, governors and representatives from Washington, Montana, Vermont, Utah, Oregon, Nevada, Maine, Colorado, Wyoming, and other states showed up to meet each other and talk about their shared interests in the outdoors. The event was the kickoff to future meetings where they’ll discuss priorities and policies.

“A major takeaway from the event was the true passion governors have for outdoor recreation, regardless of geographic location or party identity,” Jessica Wahl, Outdoor Recreation Roundtable executive director, told SNEWS. “They discussed the places they love and the activities that get them out there—from snowmobiling to fishing, camping to boating, and everything in between. There was a healthy competition between each state’s outdoor assets that I hope continues as we are nearing half of the country having an office of outdoor recreation. With professional staff at NGA coordinating and supporting these state offices, I truly think the sky is the limit.”

The first official meeting of the network will overlap with the Utah Outdoor Recreation Summit in October. Learn more here.