The more time people spend outdoors, the more likely they will want to protect it. Take me for example: I spent my formative years on 48 acres along the Apple River on forest, marsh, and prairie land. I spent much of my time exploring, hunting, and playing outside, not because it was inherently interesting but because there wasn’t much else to do. Years later, after watching the river, wildlife, and land change due to human impacts, I decided to pursue a degree in environmental science.
Now, conservation, protecting the environment, and addressing climate change are not only my job, but my passion. I’m certain that if it wasn’t for these experiences, I wouldn’t have pursued this work. All who call Minnesota home should have the same opportunity to explore the Great Outdoors and pursue outdoor recreation opportunities.
This legislative session, Minnesota has an opportunity to establish an office of outdoor recreation. By helping to manage stakeholders and the money needed to upgrade our aging trails, boat ramps, fishing piers, campgrounds, and state park facilities, an office of outdoor recreation could help to inspire more passionate people to care about what happens to our outdoor spaces.
Governor Tim Walz and Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan, along with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), have recently released their One Minnesota budget priorities for 2023–24 which includes $287.4 million for the DNR to “connect people to the outdoors, mitigate and adapt to climate change, manage natural resources proactively, and address operational needs.” This large one-time investment would benefit from the central coordination of an office of outdoor recreation to ensure state investments have maximum benefit for all who want to enjoy Minnesota’s Great Outdoors.
An office of outdoor recreation won’t only help to inspire individual interest in the environment, it will be good for our economy. Recent numbers from the Bureau of Economic Analysis show that in 2021, 3.1% of employed Minnesotans worked in the outdoor recreation economy, producing over 91,000 jobs, and resulting in $9.9 billion in value added for our state. Minnesota’s top outdoor recreation industries—including boating and fishing, hunting, motorcycling, RVing, bicycling, hiking, camping, and winter activities—produced $4.7 billion in wages that are crucial for many rural economies. These numbers indicate that we should be doing everything possible to grow participation in the outdoors and ensure that Minnesota remains an outdoor recreation destination.
In 2021, the DNR and Explore Minnesota’s own Outdoor Recreation Task Force made the recommendation to establish an independent office of outdoor recreation to help increase outdoor participation by advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion, working to better unite Minnesota’s outdoor recreation community, and to unify communications among Minnesota’s diverse outdoor recreation sector.
Eighteen other states have already established outdoor recreation offices focused on a wide range of state-specific issues. In Minnesota, our office should focus on:
- Increasing both rural and urban participation in outdoor activities
- Growing our outdoor recreation economy by investing in small and medium sized businesses
- Strengthening community connections to the outdoors
- Creating more equitable access to public lands for all
- Directing funds to historically underserved communities to increase access to outdoor recreation activities that are often cost prohibitive.
As more Minnesotans spend time outdoors, I hope they grow a passion for protecting it, as I did. We cannot afford to miss this opportunity to make bold investments in outdoor recreation infrastructure and access. We must maintain Minnesota’s position as an outdoor recreation leader by establishing our very own office of outdoor recreation.