The House Natural Resources Committee passed a historic bill today – the Expanding Public Lands Outdoor Recreation Experiences (EXPLORE) Act. Like many outdoor recreation bills in recent years, the bill passed without any opposition and is expected to move to the House floor in the near-term. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has already passed a similar bill – also without any opposition.
The EXPLORE Act impacts all corners of the outdoor recreation industry, which helped bring the entire industry and nonprofit stakeholder groups on board. While some of the provisions are new to this policy space, many have been worked on for more than a decade. It is hard to find a more comprehensive bill that has passed in recent history with such a comprehensive focus around outdoor recreation (ICYMI: check out Brumidi Group’s rundown of the package).
While this legislation has a way to go before it reaches the President’s desk, today’s passage provides important insight into the existing state of the outdoor recreation policy space:
The Outdoor Recreation Economy Remains a Big Priority for Congress: Members of Congress have increasingly championed the growing outdoor recreation economy (now over $1 trillion in annual output according to the BEA) and the policies that support it. The EXPLORE Act will have a significant impact on local economies, which has helped to drive support for the bill.
Outdoor Recreation Policy Brings Both Sides of the Political Aisle Together: Moving a package of bills with this scope requires strong leadership from both sides of the aisle and both sides of the Capitol – the EXPLORE Act has both. The bill incorporates a range of bills (all bipartisan) that includes both Republican and Democratic priorities. The overwhelming support from both sides of the aisle is a good reminder of the bipartisan support outdoor recreation and public lands policy has on Capitol Hill.
Modernization Drives Access: Within the outdoor recreation space, modernizing antiquated policies and programs is a core driver of increasing access. The EXPLORE Act provides new access for a range of groups – for disabled veterans and the broader disability community through adaptive trail designs, for underserved communities through codifying a program that prioritizes funds for local outdoor recreation infrastructure, for cyclists through the identification of new long-distance bike trails, for climbers through the protection of access in certain wilderness areas, and for guided trips through streamlining of permitting for trips led by guides and outfitters. Access remains a priority for both sides of the aisle and this legislation helps to advance access across the board.
The process around the EXPLORE Act exemplifies the Congress most people would hope to have (thoughtful, forward-looking, and bipartisan), but seems like somewhat a rarity these days. It is one of the reasons why this legislation is well positioned to be signed into law this year.