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Rural Outdoor Investment Act to Invest in Outdoor Rec, Promote Economic Growth in Rural Communities

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U.S. Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Thursday introduced the Rural Outdoor Investment Act to bolster economic growth in rural communities through strategic investment in outdoor recreation.

According to a release, the legislation would grant $50 million a year in recreation and economic development funding to rural communities in the U.S., hoping to revitalize and grow their economies through the outdoor recreation industry.

“From skiing our mountains in the winter to floating our rivers in the summer, Colorado is home to some of the best outdoor recreation in the country,” said Bennet. “As demand for outdoor recreation grows, it’s important that our investments benefit local communities, businesses, and families themselves. Our legislation will help rural areas across Colorado manage the growth around the outdoor industry in a sustainable way that creates local jobs, boosts the economy, and meets the unique needs of each community.”

Outdoor recreation is the lifeblood of many Upstate New York communities, mainly rural areas, said Schumer. Since the beginning of the pandemic, interest in the outdoors has only grown. Still, “investment for this vital economic engine has remained trapped inside,” Schumer added. 

“That is why I was proud to introduce the Rural Outdoor Investment Act with Senator Bennet, to hike up federal resources for communities across New York, boosting tourism, supporting small businesses, and strengthening our outdoor recreation economies.”

Schumer said that the bill will jump-start economic recovery from the pandemic for some rural areas, create good-paying jobs, and give a breath of fresh air to main streets across New York.

Well-planned investments in outdoor infrastructure and related businesses are essential to boost rural economies and help them meet the growing demand, as per the release. The Rural Outdoor Investment Act invests in three critical areas:

  • Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure, including boat ramps, parking at trailheads, picnic areas, and other outdoor facilities.
  • Planning to support communities that want to create an outdoor experience that meets expectations and grows Main Street.
  • Business Assistance to support recreation-related businesses such as: vehicle, gear, and equipment rentals; shuttles; guides, and outfitters; in addition to hotels, restaurants, and retail.

The Rural Outdoor Investment Act promotes collaboration between the Economic Development Administration, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development, and Small Business Administration to educate communities and businesses about existing federal resources like grants and business loans. It would also allow funding for the Recreation Economy for Rural Communities Program at USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency to provide planning assistance grants to help rural economies through outdoor recreation.

The Rural Outdoor Investment Act Includes: 

  • $30 million for public works through EDA to fund necessary infrastructure improvements from signage, to boat ramps, to new trails.
  • $5 million for planning grants through EDA for communities to create recreation economy plans that optimize their natural opportunities including marketing, branding, business development, fundraising, tourism management.
  • $2.5 million in university partnerships to promote place-based research, education, and technical assistance to local stakeholders and businesses for this high-growth sector.
  • $12.5 million for the Recreation Economy for Rural Communities grants for main street revitalization through outdoor recreation.

Legislators also previously developed the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act. Last year, Bennet, U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), and U.S. Representative Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) introduced this legislation to grow Colorado’s outdoor recreation economy and protect over 400,000 acres of public land in the state, establishing new wilderness, recreation, and conservation areas, and safeguarding existing outdoor recreation opportunities.

The bill text is available HERE. A one-page summary of the bill is available HERE.

“The Rural Outdoor Investment Act will make Colorado even more fun and amazing. The Rural Outdoor Investment Act is a winning idea for Colorado’s rural communities, will help create good jobs, and ensure our outdoor recreation economies continue to thrive. I thank Senator Bennet for showing Congress how Colorado’s own efforts to support outdoor recreation and economic development by lowering costs for Coloradans, creating new state parks, and maintaining our existing parks, while partnering with local governments, will continue to create jobs and help our nation’s economy,” said Colorado Governor Jared Polis.

Craig and Moffat County Chamber of Commerce also supports the proposed bill. Executive Director Jennifer Holloway said: “NW Colorado communities and their economies benefit greatly from the wide range of outdoor recreation including hiking, biking, hunting, and many other outdoor activities. The Rural Outdoor Investment Act aims to help further diversify and strengthen our economy in Craig and Moffat County.”

Others who expressed support for the bill include Visit Moffat County Director Tom Kleinschnitz, Larimer County Commissioner Jody Shadduck-McNally, Outdoor Recreation Coalition of the Grand Valley President Sarah Shrader, Senior Director of Western Wildlife for the National Wildlife Federation David Willms, San Miguel County Commissioner Hilary Cooper, and more.

The Outdoor Recreation Roundtable and the RV Industry Association also applauded the new bill.

“Rural communities across the country are dealing with economic and infrastructure challenges stemming from COVID-19, climate change, and transitioning economies, all while trying to seize opportunities from massive shifts in workforce and the influx of Americans seeking the outdoors. The Rural Outdoor Investment Act will provide much-needed planning, infrastructure, and business support to communities as they attract a remote workforce, grow jobs, welcome visitors, and strengthen their economies through outdoor recreation,” said Jessica Turner, president of Outdoor Recreation Roundtable.

“ORR has long known the return from investing in outdoor recreation in rural economies, and we applaud Senators Schumer and Bennet for introducing this forward-thinking and essential legislation that will support every corner of the country.”

RV owners love to take the road less traveled.   The ROI Act will help rural communities further develop their capacity to provide support for outdoor recreation and the growing RV customer base, while improving job opportunities across America,” said Phil Ingrassia, President, National RV Dealers Association.

“In the past two years there has been a fundamental change in the way Americans travel, vacation, and live as more people turn to the outdoors and outdoor recreation for not only the enjoyment it brings but also the mental and physical benefits of being outdoors. This resurgence of the great outdoors is an excellent opportunity for economic growth in rural communities, many of which have recreation assets like trails, campgrounds, lakes, and rivers. The Rural Outdoor Investment Act is an important piece of legislation that will provide funding to help these communities grow their local economies through investment in outdoor infrastructure and related businesses. As more and more RVers hit the road, heading to their favorite destination to take part in outdoor recreation activities, this legislation will improve not only their experiences, but also the rural communities making investments in recreation infrastructure,” said Jay Landers, Vice President of Government Affairs, RV Industry Association.

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