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Policy & Government

Virginia lands its own outdoor recreation office

Now, 15 states have agencies that promote the outdoor industry.

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Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam climbed into a kayak along the marshy shore of Carvins Cove Natural Reserve on Thursday. Wearing a “Virginia is for outdoor lovers” T-shirt, he spent part of his day paddling the lake, enjoying one of the places that will be protected by a new state agency he authorized: the Office of Outdoor Recreation.

The Commonwealth state—home to the Prince William Forest Park and Shenandoah National Park—is the 15th state to establish such an office. Wisconsin got their own earlier this month, and at least New Hampshire and California have legislation to create theirs.

“Every region of our Commonwealth is home to unique outdoor assets and recreation opportunities, which continue to earn national praise and are sought out by millions of travelers each year,” Northam said in a news release. “In establishing a statewide Office of Outdoor Recreation, we are taking significant steps to recognize the importance of this industry as a true driver of economic development in the Commonwealth, and demonstrate why Virginia is the natural fit for outdoor business. Outdoor recreation not only improves the growth potential of our communities, but it also aligns with our goals on land conservation, workforce development, and public health.”

Virginia’s outdoor recreation industry contributes nearly $22 billion annually to the state economy and employs more than 197,000 Virginians, according to data from Outdoor Industry Association

Deputy Secretary of Commerce and Trade Cassidy Rasnick was already chosen as director. She will lead the office into growing the state’s outdoor industry through promotion, coordination, and recruitment of manufacturers of outdoor products, such as kayaks, bicycles, and other gear.

Chuck Millsaps, of Great Outdoor Provision Company, which has two stores in Virginia and seven in North Carolina, said that the office is a huge victory. The company has seen evidence of the office’s benefits in North Carolina, which established its agency in June 2017.

But as more states create offices, Millsaps said he hopes they work together more and not as competition. An example, he said, was VF Corporation’s move out of North Carolina to Denver, Colorado. He wonders if there’s a way to coordinate with other state agencies to retain companies like VF for burgeoning outdoor states?

“What we found is that with its mountains to sea, Virginia like North Carolina has a lot of amenities that attract and help create an economic hub,” Millsaps said. “Workers look for quality of life and they choose to move there.”

The office will also coordinate with numerous conservation organizations, both local and national, to which Great Outdoor Provision Company has donated $750,000 over the store’s 40-plus years. The office will hopefully attract even more dollars.

“Just like the Department of Transportation says, you’ve got to take care of the roads and the bridges. We’re saying as an outdoor recreation director, please be a steward and lead our government in taking care of the lakes, rivers, trails, the structures that help the commerce of outdoor recreation,” Millsaps said.