CAMPTON — Vicki Christiansen, interim chief of the United States Forest Service, recently visited the White Mountain National Forest to attend a roundtable discussion about the outdoor recreation economy in the region.
Sponsored by the Appalachian Mountain Club as part of the events marking the centennial of the White Mountain National Forest, the roundtable discussion focused on forging relationships between public and private entities to to advance rural economic development through outdoor recreation. The event also celebrated the 50th anniversary of the National Trails Act.
Attendees ranged from small business owners to state and federal employees, including Dan Smith, deputy director of the National Park Service. Representatives of local and regional nonprofit organizations and the tourism industry, along with local community leaders concerned with economic development and conservation, were at the table.
District 2 Congressman Ann McLane Kuster made remarks after the discussion, along with representatives of senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan.
Facilitated by Plymouth State University’s Center for the Environment, the program asked participants to reflect on the successes of the growing outdoor recreation economy and the business trends they were seeing throughout the White Mountain region. They also were asked to think about what will be needed in the future to continue to build on that success.
There were conversations about overcrowding and potential overuse of recreational areas, while there was excitement about attracting young families and engaging entrepreneurs that want to live, work and play in the White Mountain region.
Affordability of recreation activities also was discussed, leading to agreement that there must be a balance between economic growth and the protection of natural resources across jurisdictions.
A new Forest Service strategy, Toward Shared Stewardship across Landscapes: An Outcome-Based Investment Strategy, aims to coordinate with the states in identifying priorities as managers of forest land face a range of urgent challenges, among them invasive species, weather impact, insects and disease, and recreation demands.
“The challenges before us require a new approach,” said Christiansen. “We will partner with state leaders shoulder-to-shoulder to co-manage risks, identify land management priorities. We will use all the tools available, and the future is up to us.”
The Outdoor Industry Association estimates that New Hampshire’s outdoor recreation industry generates $8.7 billion in consumer spending annually, $2.6 billion in wages and salaries, and $528 million in state and local tax revenue. Nearly 80,000 jobs are directly attributed to outdoor recreation in the state. Sixty-nine percent of the state’s residents over the age of six participate in outdoor recreation each year, significantly above the national average of 49 percent.