Proposed legislation in Oregon would give the outdoor community a significantly stronger voice at the state level.

Writer: Travis Poulin

Oregon is seeking to create its own outdoor recreation office. Similar to Colorado, Utah and Washington’s outdoor departments, proposed legislation in Oregon would give the outdoor community a significantly stronger voice at the state level.

House Bill 3350, which passed unanimously out of committee yesterday, April 3, would create an office of outdoor recreation within Oregon’s Parks and Recreation Department, create an associate director of outdoor recreation position and create an outdoor recreation fund. The office would also help to protect, conserve and improve outdoor recreation areas.

Van Schoessler, sales manager for Stanley Outdoor and president of the Oregon Outdoor Alliance, found that Oregon had a loosely connected outdoor community for quite some time. The community had a strong voice but little power, as they were separated throughout the state. This group of outdoor industry professionals became the Oregon Outdoor Alliance. After realizing that the outdoor industry’s voice needed to be heard beyond occasional meetings, the alliance started pushing toward the state level.

Schoessler said the potential for the outdoor industry in Oregon is huge, and the state needs to take advantage of opportunities there. He said there are many outdoor agencies throughout the state and they need a central point of contact to have an effective voice at the state level. Schoessler feels the associate director of outdoor recreation position would help further economic development in Oregon by encouraging outdoor companies to start there and others to relocate. Oregon has several large outdoor recreation companies – including Dakine, The Clymb, Keen and many others – and Schoessler believes the proposed outdoor recreation office could bring many more.

To put together an idea of what exactly the office’s roles would be, the Oregon Outdoor Alliance began looking at the other states that had similar departments, like Colorado, and realized that having pull at the state level is the best way to get the outdoor industry heard.

“This would allow the outdoor community to weigh in with a much more powerful voice and at the state level,” Schoessler said. “Overall, the outdoor industry is still fairly new, but it’s an industry that pays well, brings in revenue and is healthy for the environment. When you’re working with the state every day you can have a strong voice. We’re really excited about the potential of this legislation and to be connected to what the rest of the outdoor tribe is doing around the country.” Schoessler said he hopes that other states will begin following in the footsteps of Colorado, Utah, Washington and potentially Oregon.

Each state operates their outdoor recreation office uniquely and through a variety of government departments. Colorado, for example, operates its Tourism & Outdoor Recreation office through the state’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade. Utah’s Office of Outdoor Recreation is operated in a similar fashion through the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, while Washington operates its Task Force on Outdoor Recreation through the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office. As mentioned, Oregon’s potential office would be operated through the Parks and Recreation Department. California and New Mexico have progressed in similar legislation aimed at the outdoor recreation industry as well.

Schoessler said the proposed legislation would bring an estimated $12.8 billion to Oregon and create about 141,000 jobs. “The major message is that we are excited,” Schoessler said. “When we put this together we tapped some other states to see what worked for them and what didn’t. This allowed us to tailor it to Oregon’s needs. We realize it will be a challenge because the budget is tight, but the return is going to be huge for the state.”

Schoessler said if the bill passes, he hopes the Outdoor Recreation Office will begin operations by January 2018, and he has confidence that the outdoor community and the state will persevere to conserve, protect and capitalize on the outdoor recreation industry and the places people love to recreate in.

Photos courtesy Oregon Outdoor Alliance