By Jessica Wahl Turner
Fall is upon us, but as the leaves change and people start to plan autumn outdoor activities, there is a chill in the air. As president of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, a coalition of outdoor recreation associations, I implore our lawmakers on Capitol Hill to consider the consequences of a government shutdown on the thriving $862 billion outdoor recreation economy and the 4.5 million Americans who rely on it for their livelihoods [which can, ultimately, impact the RV and boat storage industry].
As we saw during the last shutdown, the damages from government closures are real — to our outdoor recreation economy, public lands and waters, the dedicated staff who manage these unique places, the visitors who cherish them, and the local communities, businesses and employees who rely on them.
In a time when companies are working diligently to recover from the economic turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic, a government shutdown would disrupt the amazing progress made by this sector. According to the Department of Commerce, outdoor recreation grew three times faster than the economy from 2020 to 2021, and outdoor jobs grew more than four times faster. Canceled visits to federal recreation sites interrupt consumer spending and cause lost wages and income for local residents, none of which will be restored by congressional action.
The effects of a shutdown go much further than locked gates or empty offices. Government shutdowns historically result in the widespread furlough of federal employees. These dedicated individuals who have committed their careers to maintaining trails, campgrounds and recreational facilities that millions of visitors enjoy every year will face immediate and significant financial hardships if the government shuts down. How easy is it for them or most Americans to go without a paycheck for a week, two weeks, a month or more? Even with the hope for back pay, the hardships will be severe.
For outdoor enthusiasts, a government shutdown means that some of our most cherished outdoor destinations may be closed. Even in open areas, there could be limited services available and safety risks. Enjoyment, connection to nature and the healing effects of recreation are priceless and should not be subject to partisan gridlock.
Additionally, our shared landscapes themselves will suffer. Previous government shutdowns have underscored the critical role that federal employees and appropriations play in their management. Without appropriate levels of staffing in place, garbage accumulates, basic services cease, key infrastructure falls into disrepair, projects are stalled, and ecological restoration and forest thinning to reduce the threat of wildfires all cease. The essence of our public landscapes, which should be protected and preserved, is at risk.
And, finally, rural and gateway communities that rely on the economic benefits generated by visitors will face setbacks. When these lands are not fully open and operating, entire local economies are at risk. Jobs and businesses in these communities depend on the influx of visitors, hunters, anglers, mountain bikers, boaters and more to thrive.
Our nation’s public lands and waters are not just a significant economic and jobs contributor but also a source of physical and mental health, community resiliency, solace, rejuvenation and inspiration. Republicans and Democrats have come together in the past to champion historic legislation and funding for the outdoors, including the Great American Outdoors Act. To avoid a government shutdown, we urgently need bipartisanship to prevail. It is time for Congress to unite in the spirit of bipartisanship and ensure that the chill in the air is about the seasons changing, not our economy.
Jessica Wahl Turner is the president of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable.
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