25 Towns Chosen For Outdoor Recreation Economic Boost

The Recreation Economy for Rural Communities (RERC) program administered by the U.S. EPA, USDA's Forest Service, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), and the Northern Border Regional Commission (NBRC) identified 25 communities across the nation for assistance.

On August 17, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), and the Northern Border Regional Commission (NBRC) announced assistance for 25 small and rural communities across the nation identify strategies to grow their outdoor recreation economies and revitalize Main Streets through the Recreation Economy for Rural Communities (RERC) program.

RERC is a planning assistance program jointly administered by the EPA, the Forest Service, NBRC, and ARC that helps rural communities leverage outdoor recreation to revitalize their Main Streets, leading to improved environmental protection and public health outcomes. Communities are encouraged to pursue activities that foster environmentally friendly community development and revitalization through the conservation and sustainable use of public or private forests or other natural resources.

outdoor recreation
(Photo: Adobe Stock)

“Outdoor recreation activities can bring new investment to local economies, encourage people to revitalize existing downtowns and conserve natural resources, and lead to improved quality of life for residents and visitors,” said Vicki Arroyo, EPA Associate Administrator for Policy. “This assistance will help rural areas explore ways that outdoor recreation can strengthen their communities, create jobs, and boost access to the outdoors for everyone.”

“The economic impact of outdoor recreation near our national forests and grasslands is vital to support health and prosperity in rural America,” said Forest Service Chief Randy Moore. “Efforts to reinvigorate main streets through the Recreation Economy for Rural Communities program is an important step to help communities realize all the benefits that adjacent national forests and grasslands make possible.”

“The travel and tourism industry in Appalachia is among the region’s fastest-growing employment sectors, generating more than $4.5 billion in local tax revenue and employing more than 577,000 Appalachians,” said ARC Federal Co-Chair Gayle Manchin. “The Recreation Economy for Rural Communities program builds on our region’s economic development potential by investing in Appalachia’s local heritage and natural assets, which will lead to more vibrant downtowns and expanded growth for outdoor recreation industries. We congratulate the 12 Appalachian communities chosen to be part of the RERC program.”

“Communities in the Northern Border region are increasingly investing in outdoor recreation in ways that strengthen their local economies,” said Chris Saunders, Federal Co-Chair of the NBRC. “The work made possible through this federal partnership will ultimately lead to investments that not only bring new visitors and tourists into rural New England and New York, but also improve the recreation opportunities and quality of life of local residents.”

“The Recreation Economy for Rural Communities program is exactly what rural America needs to harness the high demand for outdoor recreation and develop sustainable economies that benefit locals and visitors alike,” said Jessica Turner, President, Outdoor Recreation Roundtable. “The $689 billion outdoor recreation economy benefits greatly from continued government investment in programs like these that work on the ground and positively impact people, place and planet.”

The communities are planning to undertake a variety of revitalization projects which include:

  • building new trail systems
  • improving access and walkability along Main Streets
  • increasing access to outdoor activities for all residents and visitors
  • strengthening outdoor recreation businesses
  • adapting to the climate impacts that affect coastal resources, wildfires, and winter recreation opportunities
  • cleaning up and repurposing vacant buildings
  • creating new parks and recreation amenities.

A federal planning team will work with each community over the course of four to six months, with a two-day facilitated community workshop as the focal point. Participants will work together to develop strategies and an action plan to grow their local outdoor recreation economies. Some workshops are currently underway. Communities were chosen following a comprehensive interagency review process from a pool of more than 100 applicants.

2022 Partner Communities

  • Columbiana, Alabama
  • Haines, Alaska
  • Guadalupe, California
  • Quincy, California
  • Yreka, California
  • Monte Vista, Colorado
  • Hartwell, Georgia
  • Jenkins, Kentucky
  • McKee, Kentucky
  • Bangor, Maine
  • Brunswick, Maryland
  • Butte, Montana
  • Claremont, New Hampshire
  • Akwesasne, New York
  • Granville, New York
  • Salamanca, New York
  • Beverly, Ohio
  • Coshocton, Ohio
  • South Point, Ohio
  • Fairfield County, South Carolina
  • Clairfield, Tennessee
  • Marshfield, Vermont
  • Buchanan, Virginia
  • Buena Vista, Virginia
  • Fayetteville, West Virginia

The Forest Service announcement on August 17 highlights the outdoor recreation economy: Over 160 million Americans over the age of six participated in outdoor recreation in 2020, according to the 2021 Outdoor Participation Trends Report, and sales figures across the industry broke records as Americans flocked to the outdoors in search of safe, family-friendly opportunities during the pandemic. In 2020, outdoor recreation activities generated 4.3 million quality, high paying jobs across a wide variety of industries, accounting for 3% of all employment in the United States. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis calculated the economic output of outdoor recreation in 2020 to be $689 billion.

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