This opinion column was submitted by Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nevada).
People come from all over the country to visit Nevada and experience our magnificent public lands and waterways. Outdoor recreation offers opportunities to enjoy Nevada’s natural terrain through activities like hiking, camping, boating, hunting, skiing, stargazing or attending outdoor cultural events, and this industry is a significant contributor to our economy and workforce. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, outdoor recreation in Nevada generates over $5.5 billion annually and is responsible for nearly 60,000 Nevada jobs. However, just like many of our state’s other key industries, outdoor recreation and tourism have experienced pandemic-related hardships. As we take steps to enact economic recovery, we must bolster Nevada’s outdoor recreation and ecotourism economy for Nevadans and visitors to our state.
I recently got to experience Northern Nevada’s urban outdoor recreation opportunities up close when I visited the Rosewood Lakes Nature Study Area and talked with the Truckee Meadows Park Foundation about the incredible work they’re doing to preserve and maintain Nevada’s outdoors so visitors and locals alike can continue to enjoy them for years to come.
Over the past year, outdoor recreation has been a much-needed outlet for countless people looking to stay active while remaining safe and socially distanced. But COVID-19 has brought on new challenges for our state’s outdoor recreation businesses. During the pandemic, people have not been traveling to our state as they usually do. With the loss of 13.7 million annual visitors, tour companies, outfitters, guides, and other businesses that rely on travelers have suffered. A recent study on COVID-19’s economic impact found that Nevada lost about 6% of its outdoor recreation jobs during the pandemic.
And it isn’t just Nevada that’s feeling the tough times. The U.S. Census Bureau, which measured COVID-19’s impact on small businesses, found that outdoor companies have experienced major drops in sales, and nearly 90% have had to lay off or furlough staff. Unfortunately, outdoor recreation has gone from one of the fastest-growing sectors of our economy to an area of record unemployment.
Last month, I chaired a Senate subcommittee hearing specifically focused on the outdoor tourism economies of Nevada and the United States, and it’s clear that Congress must take action to rebuild and reinvigorate our outdoor tourism economy and get Nevadans back to work.
First, we won’t be able to continue enjoying the outdoors or have a healthy outdoor tourism future without adequate staffing and resources. We must improve funding for land management agencies and local communities to better manage and maintain our public lands, including the infrastructure and amenities that make these places accessible to the public. I’ve worked to address this issue through legislation like the Great American Outdoors Act, a bipartisan bill I helped introduce, which was signed into law last year. This bill funds the preservation and maintenance of our national parks, forests, waterways and recreation areas.
Second, many Nevadans and those who come here to enjoy Nevada’s natural wonders lack the transportation means to visit our parks and public lands. Lack of mobility prevents far too many Nevadans and visitors to our great state from enjoying incredible outdoor experiences, and it stops our outdoor tourism economy from receiving their business. I recently co-sponsored bicameral legislation — the Transit to Trails Act — that would help fund transportation projects that provide greater and more equitable access to parks, green spaces and public lands and waters.
Third, we must promote Nevada’s outdoor tourism and the opportunities available to visitors not just locally or nationally, but also to those worldwide. During my hearing last month, I invited Colin Robertson, administrator of the Nevada Division of Outdoor Recreation, to testify about restoring travel and tourism to get this critical economic sector back to its pre-pandemic strength. Both Robertson and I agree that there is an opportunity for greater tourism collaboration between national, state and local organizations to shine a well-deserved global spotlight on the outdoor recreation experiences in our communities.
Together, we can help local communities get back on their feet, support Nevada small businesses, and bring visitors to Nevada by highlighting the natural wonders of the Silver State. Let’s rebuild our state’s outdoor recreation and tourism economy and show the world what Nevada has to offer.
Sen. Jacky Rosen represents Nevada in the U.S. Senate.
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