WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service has joined the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), and the Northern Border Regional Commission (NBRC) to announce assistance for 25 small and rural communities from across the country identify strategies to grow their outdoor recreation economies and revitalize Main Streets through the Recreation Economy for Rural Communities (RERC) program.
“The economic impact of outdoor recreation near our national forests and grasslands is vital to support health and prosperity in rural America,” said Forest Service Chief Randy Moore. “Efforts to reinvigorate main streets through the Recreation Economy for Rural Communities program is an important step to help communities realize all the benefits that adjacent national forests and grasslands make possible.”
“Outdoor recreation activities can bring new investment to local economies, encourage people to revitalize existing downtowns and conserve natural resources, and lead to improved quality of life for residents and visitors,” said Vicki Arroyo, EPA Associate Administrator for Policy. “This assistance will help rural areas explore ways that outdoor recreation can strengthen their communities, create jobs, and boost access to the outdoors for everyone.”
“The travel and tourism industry in Appalachia is among the region’s fastest-growing employment sectors, generating more than $4.5 billion in local tax revenue and employing more than 577,000 Appalachians,” said ARC Federal Co-Chair Gayle Manchin. “The Recreation Economy for Rural Communities (RERC) program builds on our region’s economic development potential by investing in Appalachia’s local heritage and natural assets, which will lead to more vibrant downtowns and expanded growth for outdoor recreation industries. We congratulate the 12 Appalachian communities chosen to be part of the RERC program.”
“Communities in the Northern Border region are increasingly investing in outdoor recreation in ways that strengthen their local economies,” said Chris Saunders, Federal Co-Chair of the NBRC. “The work made possible through this federal partnership will ultimately lead to investments that not only bring new visitors and tourists into rural New England and New York, but also improve the recreation opportunities and quality of life of local residents.”
“The Recreation Economy for Rural Communities program is exactly what rural America needs to harness the high demand for outdoor recreation and develop sustainable economies that benefit locals and visitors alike,” said Jessica Turner, President, Outdoor Recreation Roundtable. “The $689 billion outdoor recreation economy benefits greatly from continued government investment in programs like these that work on the ground and positively impact people, place and planet.”
RERC is a planning assistance program jointly administered by the Forest Service, the EPA, NBRC, and ARC that helps rural communities leverage outdoor recreation to revitalize their Main Streets, leading to improved environmental protection and public health outcomes. Communities are encouraged to pursue activities that foster environmentally friendly community development and revitalization through the conservation and sustainable use of public or private forests or other natural resources.
The communities are planning to undertake a variety of revitalization projects which include:
- building new trail systems;
- improving access and walkability along Main Streets;
- increasing access to outdoor activities for all residents and visitors;
- strengthening outdoor recreation businesses;
- adapting to the climate impacts that affect coastal resources, wildfires, and winter recreation opportunities;
- cleaning up and repurposing vacant buildings; and
- creating new parks and recreation amenities.
A federal planning team will work with each community over the course of four to six months, with a two-day facilitated community workshop as the focal point. Participants will work together to develop strategies and an action plan to grow their local outdoor recreation economies. Some workshops are currently underway. Communities were chosen following a comprehensive interagency review process from a pool of more than 100 applicants.
Over 160 million Americans over the age of six participated in outdoor recreation in 2020, according to the 2021 Outdoor Participation Trends Report, and sales figures across the industry broke records as Americans flocked to the outdoors in search of safe, family-friendly opportunities during the pandemic. These activities — which include camping, fishing, hunting, hiking, RVing, boating, running, swimming, baseball, winter sports, and many others – can bring new investment and jobs to local economies, benefit health and wellness, raise awareness in conservation of forests and other natural resources, and improve the quality of life for residents and visitors.
In 2020, outdoor recreation activities generated 4.3 million quality, high paying jobs across a wide variety of industries, accounting for 3% of all employment in the United States. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis calculated the economic output of outdoor recreation in 2020 to be $689 billion, surpassing industries such as mining, utilities, farming and ranching, and chemical products manufacturing.
The EPA Office of Community Revitalization supports locally led, community-driven efforts to expand economic opportunity, protect human health and the environment, and create and enhance the places that people love through technical assistance, publications, research, tools, and grants.
The USDA Forest Service develops and implements place-based recreation planning using collaborative processes with communities and outdoor recreation and tourism providers within regional destination areas. Forest Service recreation programs support over 205,000 jobs, the majority of which are in rural gateway communities near national forests. The agency partners with states, tribes, local communities, and landowners to promote shared stewardship of public and privately-owned forests and grasslands.
ARC is an economic development agency of the federal government and 13 state governments focusing on 423 counties across the Appalachian Region. ARC’s mission is to innovate, partner, and invest to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth in Appalachia to help the Region achieve socioeconomic parity with the nation.
Created in 2008, the NBRC is a federal-state partnership whose mission is to help alleviate economic distress and encourage private sector job creation in Maine, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont. In its thirteen-year history, including these new awards, the commission has awarded 331 grants, amounting to more than $90.6 million in direct investment and $296 million in additional leveraged investments, across the four states through its primary State Economic & Infrastructure Development grant program and other special initiatives.
For a list of the selected communities and projects:
For more information about EPA’s community revitalization efforts: https://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth
For more information about USDA Forest Service: Home | US Forest Service (usda.gov)
For more information about the Northern Border Regional Commission: www.nbrc.gov
For more information about the Appalachian Regional Commission: www.arc.gov
–U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service