Go outside: New report stresses the importance of outdoor rec

OLYMPIA – Outdoor recreation is critical to the health of residents and the economy of Washington, and should be treated it as an essential government service like transportation and public safety, concludes a draft report issued Tuesday.

Washington should designate outdoor recreation as an industry and establish an agency to promote access to and activities on local, state and federal lands, the report recommends.

In addition, the panel called for securing new sources of revenue to ensure full funding of the state parks system.

Changes must be made in the Discover Pass program so it is no longer a barrier to some would-be enthusiasts on state recreation lands, the report states.

And the 29-member panel also suggests outdoor recreation be included in the core curriculum in public schools.

“Outdoor recreation is not just fun and games. Outdoor recreation is essential to who we are, to our quality of life, and it strengthens our sense of what it means to be a community,” task force members wrote in the report.

“We can and must act now to ensure the stewardship of our parks and public lands, to inspire our children to live a life grounded in experiencing recreation in the great outdoors and to nurture a vital and growing business sector.”

The Washington Blue Ribbon Task Force on Parks and Outdoor Recreation is collecting public comments on its draft report through Sept. 4. It will deliver its final recommendations to Gov. Jay Inslee on Sept. 19.

Outdoor recreation is a major industry in Washington and one often overshadowed in a state dominated by aerospace and technology firms and agriculture.

A report issued in 2013 by the Outdoor Industry Association found $22.5 billion is spent annually in Washington on outdoor recreation. The industry supports 226,600 jobs and generates $1.6 billion in state and local tax revenues, according to the report.

Inslee directed the task force to come up with ideas for marketing the industry to tourists and funding state parks. He also requested members offer different ways of getting children to spend more time recreating in the outdoors as part of his goal to help stem the spread of childhood obesity.

The panel, which began work in April, held five public meetings around the state. It also received 3,000 comments from residents at the meetings and through an online site.

A panel leader said many of those ideas will get mention on the final product.

“The number one message is that today’s reality and the future potential of the outdoor economy are both so much larger than we recognize and our outdoors is just taken for granted,” said Barb Chamberlain, executive director of Washington Bikes and a co-chairwoman of the panel.

“We have incredible natural capital in this state,” she said. “It is something that can be lost if you don’t pay attention to it.”

Panel members came from the private, public and nonprofit sectors. They included representatives of REI, Outdoor Research, The Wilderness Society, Trust for Public Land, Sierra Club and Washington Tourism Alliance.

The report is posted online at http://rco.wa.gov/boards/TaskForce.shtml.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com and on Twitter at @dospueblos.

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