The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has named a former Penn State assistant professor with experience in tourism and recreation as its first director of outdoor recreation to assess requirements and bring in a broader range of forest and park users.
In late January, Nathan Reigner, who holds a doctoral degree in natural resources, took the job with a salary of $109,380 per year.
According to a report, Cindy Adams Dunn, secretary of the DCNR, said at a January advisory committee meeting that the pandemic has revealed the necessity of a leader who can concentrate on outdoor activities “from a 10,000-foot view.”
Millions of Pennsylvanians and tourists from out of state were forced to go outdoors during the COVID-driven lockdowns. The state’s forests and parks witnessed record numbers of people visiting for cycling, hiking, fishing, camping, and many other pursuits. The popularity of the state parks of Pennsylvania has increased even as restrictions have been lifted.
“We concluded that we need a director of outdoor recreation,” Dunn said. “so we’ve hired an incredible asset for outdoor recreation in Pennsylvania … he is a leader in outdoor recreation in the state, nationally, and internationally.”
She added that Reigner, who is a graduate of the Upper Perkiomen School District in northern Montgomery and eastern Berks counties, will be able to determine the needs of outdoor recreation and coordinate with the DCNR, private companies, non-profits, as well as federal and local recreation organizations, government agencies, and business leaders.
“I think that leisure and recreation really do deliver benefits that we cannot take for granted in that they touch our lives every day,” Reigner said at the online meeting of DCNR’s Conservation and Natural Resources Advisory Council. “It delivers economic benefits, very core, very straightforward economic benefits.”
Reigner explained that the benefits to the state are derived from funds spent on services like outdoor guides and outfitters, equipment makers, retailers, and other related travel and tourism.
The director also said businesses use their proximity of outdoor areas to draw those who used to work in offices. The jobs that are available no longer have to be grouped around cities.
Reigner stated that Pennsylvania has the sixth-highest “outdoor recreation value-added economy of any state.” Reigner sees the position as an opportunity to grow and promote outdoor activities for everyone.
“There are also issues with race, ethnicity, age, ability,” Reigner said. “I’ll call it social or societal access that we really need to be investing in, and these are investments in people as well as an infrastructure.”