Senior recreational industry corporate and trade association officials met with Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Monday, April 24, capping a full and encouraging day of discussions with administration officials. The meetings were organized by the Outdoor Recreation Industry Roundtable (ORIR) and began in Shenandoah National Park. Twelve hours later, the day’s discussions concluded in Zinke’s offices in downtown Washington, D.C.
The evening’s discussion began with the Secretary outlining a broad range of goals. He pledged to rebuild trust with the public and with state and local governments, with more collaboration and less focus on law enforcement, expressing plans to rebuild the image of park rangers as hosts and sources of information and assistance. He discussed more active management of parks and other public lands, including removal of dead and downed trees. Secretary Zinke explained his focus on parks despite a commitment to all federally-managed lands, telling the group that for much of America, agencies like the Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation were invisible. He pledged to support front line land managers, observing that poor morale at the NPS centered on the lack of support now provided to this key segment of employees.
Secretary Zinke provided an overview of his design for a major departmental reorganization, which he described as the “biggest in 100 years” which reflects the visions of legendary outdoorsmen John Muir and Gifford Pinchot.
The reorganization will unite all federal lands around key ecosystems.
He told the group that the reorganization will reflect recreation’s large and growing role in public land and water management and substantially boost on-the-ground manpower.
During his discussions with the recreation leaders, Secretary Zinke expressed interest in the day’s earlier conversations with other administration representatives and expressed strong support for public/private partnerships. He told the group that the department now had more than 220 commissions and advisory bodies, but none provided broad support for partnerships. He added examples of where he sought such counsel – telling the group that some parks were truly at carrying capacity until major changes occurred. He cited Yosemite National Park, saying that current enjoyment of the park is limited by its auto-based transportation system, expressing hope for an innovative, “cool transportation alternative” and his plans to invite counsel from innovators such as Space X’s Elon Musk and then plan action under the umbrella of the infrastructure initiative.
On infrastructure, the recreation industry leaders and the Secretary were in complete agreement: improved connectivity along roads and in developed parts of the public lands are vital for safety and enjoyment. The Secretary and other meeting participants also found common ground on a goal of making visits to national parks and other public lands great experiences.
Several of the stories raised at the Shenandoah meeting were shared with the Secretary, including accounts of agency efforts to “cure” deferred maintenance backlog problems with facility shutdowns. Expressing both concern and disappointment, the Secretary shared his own frustrations about a failure to put visitor service high as a priority. He described his visit to a popular federal area drawing 250,000 annual visits with very limited visitor services. He suggested to the area managers the addition of a campground to allow enhanced visits and viewing of bison. He was told that campgrounds are inappropriate within refuges like this – although when pushed, the manager found it challenging to explain why.
The wide-ranging discussion included plans for on-going cooperation and collaboration, including the development of sites for innovative, partner-based recreation expansion on federal lands. The Secretary invited ORIR to return with a list of at least ten sites within 60 days.
The meeting concluded with conversations about how ORIR and the recreation community could support the Secretary’s efforts, including the reorganization. The Secretary is eager to enlist the recreation community and recognizes the opportunities for use of channels ranging from trade and consumer shows to retail locations to social media sites and recreation print and electronic publications.
The Secretary, already noted for his communications successes ranging from riding a horse to work on his first day to securing the gift of the President’s first quarter paycheck to the NPS, told the group he needs those channels to help explain his goals and visions.
Participants in the meeting with the Secretary included key members of his team that had been in Shenandoah plus the Secretary’s newest Senior Advisor, Dave Mihalic, and: Derrick Crandall, American Recreation Coalition; Chris Edmonston, BoatU.S.; Jim Houser, Delaware North; Frank Hugelmeyer, Recreation Vehicle Industry Association; Martin MacDonald, Bass Pro Shops; Jay McAninch, Archery Trade Association; Mike Nussman, American Sportfishing Association; Amy Roberts, Outdoor Industry Association; Nicole Vasilaros, National Marine Manufacturers Association; Paul Vitrano, Polaris; and K.C. Walsh, Simms Fishing.