While much of the policy ecosystem is stalled in hyper-partisan dysfunction, the outdoor recreation policy space nears another historic legislative victory for the outdoor industry. On the heels of the Bureau of Economic Analysis’ announcement that the recreation economy has now reached $1.1 trillion (including 5 million jobs and 2.2% of the grass domestic product), the House introduced the Expanding Public Lands Outdoor Recreation Experiences Act (EXPLORE Act), which is the counterpart to the America’s Outdoor Recreation Act that has passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
The EXPLORE Act is a laundry list of many of the most important policy solutions supported by the outdoor recreation community, including permit streamlining (SOAR Act), identification of long distance bike trails (BOLT Act), targeted projects for underserved communities (Outdoors for All Act), codification of the multi-agency coordinating council for outdoor recreation (Improving Outdoor Recreation Coordination Act), adaptive trails for the disability community (MVP Act), increasing broadband connectivity (Connect Our Parks Act), and protection of fixed anchors within wilderness areas (Protect America’s Rock Climbing Act).
The House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the EXPLORE Act, which included broad bipartisan support from committee members and support from the Administration. A mark-up is likely to happen sometime early in 2024.
This legislative effort – pieces of which have been in the works for decades – is aligned with virtually all of the key indicators of legislation that advances:
No Cost: The EXPLORE Act significantly adjusts policy, but does not authorize new spending. With spending being the biggest hurdle for legislative movement these days, this legislation triggers no spending concerns.
Local Impact: Virtually every community in the United States is impacted by the recreation economy and bills like the EXPLORE Act make it easier to experience outdoor recreation, which helps the surrounding economy. This is especially true in rural economies near public lands where outdoor recreation is often the best solution for economic growth.
Bipartisan Support: Nothing moves in a divided Congress without the support of both sides of the political aisle. This – and most other outdoor recreation bills – enjoys strong support from both sides of the aisle and both sides of the Capitol.
Committee Leadership Buy-In: Well, this is fairly straight forward…the “big four” leaders of the House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over the bill are the lead sponsors.
Political Benefit: As we are in the middle of an important election cycle, bills with some benefit to policymakers on the campaign trail are often prioritized. The EXPLORE Act will be easy for candidates to tout as a meaningful win for local economies and for increasing access to the outdoors.
While the timeline for the EXPLORE Act is not yet defined, the legislation is well on its way to a successful legislative path forward.