2020: The Year Georgia Can Become a Leader in Outdoor RecreationChattahoochee Blueway near Columbus, Georgia.
By George Dusenbury, Georgia State Director for The Trust for Public Land
In an era of division and partisanship, it is remarkable that in the 2018 election, almost 83 percent of voters checked YES for the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Amendment (GOSA), earmarking up to 80 percent of the existing sales tax collected on outdoor recreation products to create parks, build trails, and protect land and water. That outcome overwhelmingly illustrates that people across the state of all political and ideological affiliations agree that public lands for people are important.
I believe we have an opportunity to build on that consensus. The Trust for Public Land was one of the leading organizations working to ensure GOSA passed. We are known nationally and locally for collaborating across boundaries and party lines to catalyze the creation of transformative public spaces. It is that reputation that gives us the confidence to ask, so what’s next for Georgia?
As we consider the possibilities, outdoor recreation emerges as a natural priority. From the Atlanta BeltLine and other trail systems, to a growing number of water trails and protected forests and coastal areas, an incredible array of federal, state and local public recreation resources can be found across the state.
There is great opportunity to grow our state’s outdoor recreation resources and economy, and there are also factors that require us to act with a sense of urgency.
- Georgia’s population is growing and diversifying, and the need for plentiful, varied and high-quality outdoor recreation resources will also increase.
- According to the Outdoor Industry Association, consumers spend approximately $27.3 billion on outdoor recreation in Georgia each year, and 238,000 jobs are directly tied to the industry. An increased focus on outdoor recreation could mean an even greater economic impact and new jobs.
- In 2019, the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund became permanent. While never fully funded, LWCF has provided hundreds of millions of dollars for land conservation and recreational opportunities in Georgia. New efforts to increase recreation assets could lead to LWCF funding for our state.
- The climate crisis is altering natural communities and impacting our economic outlook and the health of every Georgian. Investments that protect and improve outdoor recreation sites can also be designed to support climate resilience.
In May 2019, The Trust for Public Land hosted the Georgia Trail Summit to convene government officials, environmental leaders and community advocates around increasing, connecting and improving our state’s network of trails. The Summit featured a discussion about how to leverage our state’s unity around natural resources. Local leaders from the outdoor industry and natural resources partners began a dialogue about how to position Georgia as an outdoor recreation mecca, supporting healthy, economically vibrant communities.
In the intervening months, more than 30 influential partners have signed on, formalizing the Georgia Outdoor Recreation Coalition. This level of engagement in such a short amount of time is a clear sign that 2020 presents an unprecedented moment to bring people together to provide plentiful access to nature and recreation.
The Coalition aims to catalyze economic development and improve the quality of life for all Georgians. Our physical and emotional health and our economic growth depend on our ability to find creative approaches that embrace and protect natural resources while providing significant benefit to communities.
- We are listening to leaders from other states where similar coalitions have advanced the collective ideas of those who are tied to outdoor recreation.
- We are assessing opportunities to elevate outdoor recreation within existing structures, such as the Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP).
- We are discussing ideas such as a statewide masterplan for trails and how to increase awareness among decision-makers about the positive impacts of outdoor recreation.
- And we are looking to examples from other states; according to the Outdoor Recreation Industry Association,16 states have created offices of outdoor recreation, task forces, or policy advisors to focus on economic development and the outdoor recreation economy.
When we get outside together, under the sun and sky and on the lands and waters that support us all, we can find common ground. As a new year begins, get outside and explore the parks and natural areas of our state. And whether you run a community bike shop, lead an outdoor adventure company or represent an organization that supports public spaces, I invite you to reach out and get involved in the Outdoor Recreation Coalition. We are moving fast–because the intersection of opportunity and need that exists today offers unique and exciting potential.
Learn more about the Outdoor Recreation Coalition at the 2020 Georgia Trail Summit in Augusta on May 3-4. Sign up to receive email updates about the Summit and follow the Georgia Trail Summit on Facebook.
Georgia Outdoor Recreation Coalition Members
Arabia Mountain Alliance
Atlanta Regional Commission
Eastcoast Greenway Alliance
Georgia Department of Economic Development
Georgia Wildlife Federation
Georgia River Network
Grassroots Outdoor Alliance
Greening Youth Foundation
International Mountain Biking Assoc.
Lula Lake Land Trust
Nantahala Outdoor Center
People for Bikes
River Valley Regional Commission
Southern Outdoor Recreational Bike Assn.
South GA Regional Commission
Southeastern Climbers Assn.
Summit Expeditions & Nomadic Experience
The Trust for Public Land
Theodore Roosevelt Conservation
Three Rivers Regional Commission