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Senior administration officials attend roundtable

(Washington, DC)- Senior officials from the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) and U.S. Forest Service met with more than 30 representatives of the outdoor recreation industry at Shenandoah National Park April 24 to discuss improving visitor experiences on America's public lands and waters. The meeting was hosted by the Outdoor Recreation Industry Roundtable (ORIR), of which the American Horse Council is a participant and member.

According to the AHC Foundations 2005 Economic Impact Study, over 3.9 million horses are involved in recreational riding, and it generates an economic impact of $32 billion; making recreational riding a key component of the vast equine industry.

"Giving more people the chance to enjoy a healthy and active lifestyle on their public lands is a key part of helping outdoor recreational activities such as trail riding continue to grow," said AHC President Julie Broadway. "We are glad to be a participant in the ORIR in order to ensure that recreational riders continue to have the ability to enjoy riding on public lands in areas they love."

DOI Senior White House Advisor Doug Domenech outlined key goals and challenges, and emphasized the need to expand access to public lands and waters, saying, "the Roosevelt Arch says 'For the benefit and enjoyment of the people,' and bringing people back to the equation is clearly an important issue."

Meeting participants identified access as a crucial area where the private sector can help federal partners improve visitor experiences in the great outdoors. They discussed the negative impact of access restrictions and the value of adopting practices to help enhance access to public lands.

Industry members offered their ideas on reducing the multi-billion dollar maintenance backlog plaguing the public lands. Suggestions included longer concessions contracts, extended service hours and seasons, restructured fee retention, reduced barriers to private investment, more efficient fee collection and a reassessment of backlog needs.

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"We believe innovative policies like the recently passed National Forest System Trail Stewardship Act, which focuses on increasing volunteerism and trail maintenance, will be important to addressing the public lands maintenance backlog," said Ben Pendergrass, AHC Sr. VP, Policy and Legislative Affairs. "We are pleased with how the Forest Service is implementing the new law and look forward to working with them, the DOI and our recreation partners to find solutions to the challenges facing our public lands."

The recreation industry representatives emphasized their commitment to helping DOI overcome its current challenges. Providing support for DOI funding in the FY2018 budget, encouraging a Recreation Title in upcoming infrastructure legislation and prioritizing the REC Act were just some of the ideas offered during the discussion. They also discussed how public-private partnerships can help promote awareness and support for America's outdoors by capitalizing on industry efforts like Take Me Riding, Go RVing, Discover Boating, and TakeMeFishing to spread the word about great opportunities on public lands and waters.

"This is an excellent opportunity for the equine industry to work together with other outdoor recreation sectors to present a unified voice to improve experiences on our public lands," said Ms. Broadway. "In a current time of political divisions, the great outdoors can provide a unifying force. We look forward to working with ORIR, Secretary Zinke and the Department of the Interior on providing healthy, active outdoor fun In America's great outdoors."

–American Horse Council