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ORIR continues to form strong bonds with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke

By Tim Hennagir

A coalition of boating industry trade associations continues to form strong bonds with Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke through their work with the Outdoor Recreational Industry Roundtable.

The ORIR includes BoatUS, MRAA and NMMA, as well as the American Sportfishing Association. Combined, the outdoor recreation industry generates $887 billion annually in economic activity and provides an estimated 7.6 million direct jobs.

Boating Industry recently asked ORIR organizations for a progress report and comments regarding their work with Zinke.

The organizations addressed the continued, positive impact the secretary’s role is having with industry associations and some of the key initiatives that are moving forward, as well as recent outreach efforts directed at the Congressional Boating Caucus.

“[BoatUS] has appreciated the active engagement of Secretary Zinke and his staff on ensuring and expanding boaters’ access to the water,” said David Kennedy, BoatUs manager of government affairs. “We recently joined the secretary when he announced $14.7 million in Boating Infrastructure Grants."

As one of the original champions of the BIG program, BoatUS is excited to see this user pays, everyone benefits program be recognized at the highest levels, Kennedy said.

"The BIG program is an excellent example of public-private partnerships the ORIR is working to enhance," Kennedy said. By leveraging federal excises taxes paid by boaters, local governments and businesses can create attractive boating facilities that bring vitality to waterfront communities.

“We’ve have also had a productive dialog on access to federal land and waters that boaters count on,” Kennedy said. “From iconic national parks like Key Biscayne to local boat ramps provided by the Bureau of Land Management and everything in between, federal public lands play a crucial role in providing great boating experiences. BoatUS believes a strong boating industry benefits recreational boaters."

Secretary Zinke and his team at the Department of the Interior are passionate about working to enhance the outdoors, said William Higgins, MRAA public policy manager.

Zinke’s firm commitment to expanding recreational access to public lands and waters is encouraging, as is his understanding of the size and importance of the recreation economy.

“MRAA and the rest of the ORIR are eager to work with the Department of the Interior on identifying innovative and sustainable ways to improve recreational boating and the American recreation experience as a whole,” Higgins said.

Zinke has expressed a strong interest in working with NMMA and its partners in the ORIR, Higgins said.

“He has great enthusiasm for working collaboratively with the private sector to create public-private partnerships that will allow our country to provide greater access and enjoyment across public lands and waters — all of which is great news for the boating community," Higgins said.

In March, Zinke hosted a Capitol Hill “ Made in America” event to showcase American-made outdoor recreation products and has shown an ongoing commitment to creating public-private partnerships with the creation of the Recreation Advisory Committee.

NMMA President Thom Dammrich said Zinke clearly recognizes the important economic impact of the boating industry plays in the lives of Americans.

“He has expressed a strong interest in working with NMMA and our partners in the ORIR to improve the visitor experience on our public lands and waters,” Dammrich said. “What’s more, he has great enthusiasm for working collaboratively with the private sector to create public-private partnerships that will allow our country to provide greater access and enjoyment across public lands and waters—all of which is great news for the boating community.”

During its July meeting, ORIR made 27 specific recommendations involving $80 million in private investment to improve recreation opportunities in national parks, wildlife refuges and on other public lands and waters.

“Over the coming weeks and months, we will follow up with Secretary Zinke to explore these recommendations,” Dammrich said. “In addition, we will work to identify ways the ORIR can engage with his Recreation Advisory Committee. For example, as part of these efforts, we will work together to figure out how we can reduce barriers to public-private partnerships to better enable concessionaires. From contract length to seasonal facility extensions, there are numerous endeavors we will explore."

Zinke welcomed the input of recreation industry associations even before taking office, said Derrick Crandall, president of the American Recreation Coalition and ORIR member.

Since then, Zinke has met with ORIR representatives comprised of nearly 20 trade associations, regularly to discuss strategies for enhancing public access, increasing enjoyment of those visiting public lands and waters and embrace and expand public private partnerships.

“We are discussing exciting ideas,” Crandall said. “Those ideas ranging from the appointment of a recreation champion within the Department of the Interior to Secretary Zinke’s recent announcement of a new recreation advisory committee to solve questions of overcrowding and recreation funding."

Regarding the ORIR’s specific recommendations involving the $80 million in private investment to improve recreation opportunities in national parks, wildlife refuges and on other public lands and waters, Crandall said the proposals range from First Catch fishing centers to trail system expansions to improved WiFi accessibility in high visitation areas.

Those recommendations are being reviewed by the secretary, and initial indications are that many will be implemented, Crandall said, adding Zinke is passionate about his belief that outdoor recreation is important to American today and tomorrow.

“He expects better trails, better campgrounds, better marinas and access to public waters as key accomplishments of his time in office,” Crandall said.

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