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The Conference launched the 21st Century Strategy for America’s Great Outdoors and to provide a forum on strategies and obstacles for "connecting outdoor spaces and reconnecting Americans to the outdoors."


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White House Conference on America’s Great Outdoors

From National Association of Recreation Resource Planners
By Jeff Prey and Glenn Haas, NARRP Board Members (April 16, 2010)

On Friday, April 16, 2010, President Obama hosted the White House Conference on America's Great Outdoors. The meeting was about working together to conserve America's precious land resources and to encourage people to get outdoors and reconnect to the land. "First, we’re going to build on successful conservation efforts being spearheaded outside of Washington-- by local and state governments, by tribes, and by private groups," Obama said. "Secondly, we’re going to help farmers, ranchers, property owners who want to protect their lands... Third, we’ll help families spend more time outdoors, building on what the First Lady has done through the “Let’s Move” initiative... And fourth, we want to foster a new generation of community and urban parks."

During the meeting, he signed a Presidential Memorandum to launch what is being called America's Great Outdoors Initiative for the 21st Century.

This Presidential Initiative has three main goals:

1. Reconnect Americans, especially children, to America's rivers and waterways, landscapes of national significance, ranches, farms and forests, great parks, and coasts and beaches by exploring a variety of efforts
2. Build upon State, local, private, and tribal priorities for the conservation of land, water, wildlife, historic, and cultural resources, creating corridors and connectivity across these outdoor spaces, and for enhancing neighborhood parks; and determine how the Federal Government can best advance those priorities through public private partnerships and locally supported conservation strategies.
3. Use science-based management practices to restore and protect our lands and waters for future generations.

Conference Overview and Participants

1. 500 people were present.
2. The primary group (perhaps 50-60%) represented at the conference were land trust representatives such as The Nature Conservancy, Trust for Public Lands, Land Trust Alliance and many local “save our area” groups.
3. The second largest group was advocacy groups such as TWS, Sierra Club, NPCA, and Natural Resource Defense Council.
4. The third largest group was state-level officials including three governors and a number of DNR directors and several State Park directors.
5. The fourth largest group was distinguished guests such as former Secretary Bruce Babbitt, members of the Stewart Udall family, Theodore Roosevelt IV, Henry Diamond of the ORRRC Commission, Nathaniel Reed and a number of congressional representatives.
6. The fifth largest group was private recreation manufactures and retailers such as the CEO’s of REI, EMS and Coleman.

Federal agency officials were not present---only NPS Director Jarvis was recognized. There were no known professional and practicing-level parks, recreation or natural resource field people to offer a management/planning perspective.

April 15: Thursday Reception

The conference started Thursday evening with a reception and short program. Three impressive aspects are noteworthy:

1. The session was hosted by Secretary of Ag Vilsack, Secretary of the Interior Salazar, CEQ Director Nancy Sutley and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. They presented themselves as the Obama’s “green team” and provided very compelling statements of support for the 21st Century Strategy. They were present for the entire reception, as well as the entire conference day (April 16).
2. Governor Richardson of NM spoke with fiery passion. He touched many of our hot button issues including full funding for LWCF and a revised 50-50 fed/state split. He and several others spoke about the “renaissance of rural America” through parks, recreation, and open space.
3. The Governor of Maryland spoke about a topic close to NARRP’s interest: landscape-scale (regional, interagency) planning for the huge Chesapeake Bay watershed using best planning practices, community collaboration and GIS spatial technology. He would be an excellent speaker at a future NARRP Conference.

April 16: Friday Conference Day

Once again, the day started with compelling presentation by Vilsack, Sutley, Salazar, and Jackson. Some key statements included:

* First White House conference on Conservation for the 21st Century
* We are beginning a march for conservation in the 21st century
* Feds are important but cannot do it alone
* We want a community-centered conservation effort
* Nature is God’s art
* The “working lands” are part of the equation—farms, homesteads, ranches
* New course in the direction of protecting our great outdoors
* Youth in the outdoors will be our lasting legacy
* We need to invest in great urban parks and open space
* Public-private partnerships are needed

It was great to hear these things from such a diverse and powerful group.

President Obama's Speech:

This was special. He framed his presentation around the fact that it has been 102 years since a President has stood so tall for conservation - Theodore Roosevelt. He said he would like to carry-on and enrich the Roosevelt legacy. He was very serious and passionate. His speech is posted on the NARRP website. He talked through the rationale and plan of action for the 21st Century Strategy, and then had a formal signing session.

What a joy it was to hear a President use the words recreation, parks, kids, wellness, jobs in the recreation and tourism industry, families in the outdoors, and the need to adopt a strategy to meet the changing times and conditions.

Indeed, it is easy to be cynical and say “not another commission or study by the feds”, but to hear the words from the President and the inter-departmental “green team” gives one hope that maybe change and betterment for a diversity of quality outdoor recreation, parks and open space in America is at hand. That maybe we will move from a disparate national collection to a national system of recreation, parks, corridors, heritage areas, refuges and other open spaces.

The best laughter came when President Obama was recalling the life and contributions of President Roosevelt. The President reassured the audience, that contrary to President Roosevelt, it is unlikely that he will be shooting any bears soon! He said that would be a good bet.

NARRP NOTE: The 21st Century Strategy for America’s Great Outdoors (posted on NARRP website) is a two-year initiative headed up by CEQ Director Sutley. It is gratifying to see, in Section 2b of the initiative, the call for Interagency Coordination across seven cabinet departments and OMB. Again, in the NARRP recommendation to Secretary Salazar in our 2009 position paper entitled Support for the Great Outdoors America, the first and primary recommendation we discussed is the need for “Inter-Departmental National Leadership.”

Two Panel Sessions:
There were two 4-person panel sessions. They were interesting and enjoyable, but no new information or real substance was offered to those of us who have been in the field for awhile.

The major themes were (a) successful land acquisition/easement stories that have connected our outdoor spaces and (b) the importance of connecting Americans, particularly youth, to the outdoors.

There was little, if any, talk of management, planning, financing, science, monitoring, resource protection, visitor enjoyment and management, long-time sustainability and only one comment (Gov. Richardson) about full funding for LWCF and a 50-50 split of these monies.

Afternoon Sessions:
There were twelve breakout sessions with 40-50 people in each. Each group was to address four questions, with each session being 2-hours long----noble effort but not practical. It was frustrating in that most people wanted to tell a story or give their stump speech, regardless of the assigned questions or time.

General Observations/Curiosities/Surprises

1. The audience was not representative of our profession or industry---professional recreation managers and other natural resource professionals, scientists, and academia were not present---but should be at the forthcoming listening sessions.
2. One might get the impression that all we need to do is buy more land and secure more easements in order to connect communities and Americans---this is important but hardly the big picture. The Great Outdoors Colorado model is greatly influencing Salazar, Strickland, and Shaffroth.
3. It was a pleasant surprise that the Administration saw the role and relevancy of recreation, parks and open space to seven other departments including Defense, Health and Human Services, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, and Labor to work with the Green Team.
4. There seemed to be a lack of awareness among the audience of the thousands of programs and activities in place to get more Americans and youth in the outdoors.
5. Recreation and park professionals need to offer more substance, strategies and tactics to the “green team” at the listening sessions, meetings, or by writing.
6. The conference lacked substance and clarity in terms of changes in policy, programs, organization, funding, etc. Time will tell if meaningful change and opportunity will be forthcoming.
7. Even with a good number of state-level officials present, there was a surprising lack of reference to LWCF funding. This was a missed opportunity. Why there is not a better and louder coordinated voice from communities and States is curious.
8. There was more discussion (maybe 60-40%) about restoring great urban parks and open space than to grand parks, wilderness and rivers. The Mayor of Trenton said “there is gold under that concrete.”
9. America's public lands serve as a smart 21st-century investment, because on top of all the benefits they already provide, they can sustain our communities into the future by anchoring local economies.
10. The major theme of the initiative is to connect America’s outdoor space; planning is a essential tool to building this connected system and SCORPs could be a major tool for the larger landscape-scale (regional interagency, county, state, fed) plans that will be needed. SCORPs are the only large-scale planning efforts mandated (LWCF), comprehensive so as to include water and wildlife, and financed in part by federal money. Other planning efforts are confined to an agency’s particular jurisdiction.
11. The NPS RTCA program, particularly its conservation assistance activities, could be well positioned to both help the initiative and benefit from the initiative.
12. There is a chance that some type of federal departmental, inter-departmental leadership or coordinating council could come from the deliberations of this effort much like the suggestions NARRP presented in the 2009 position paper.
13. It was very good to have NARRP represented on this stage and we need to stay closely involved.

Recommendations for Continued NARRP Involvement:

1. The Green Team will host a series of “listening sessions” around the country this summer before their 2010 report targeted for November 1. Nothing about these meetings has been set or is known at this time.
2. NARRP members should be informed of the listening sessions and encouraged to participate.
3. NARRP should prepare a letter to CEQ Director Nancy Sutley that would include our 2009 recommendations among other points.
4. NASPD, NRPA, NASORLO and NARRP should partner to provide a united front on issues of mutual interest. Maybe include the National Association of County Park and Recreation Officials (NACPRO).
5. NARRP should consider producing an excellence in planning awards document that would highlight the annual award winners for submittal to CEQ Director Nancy Sutley. These efforts are the some of the jewels the Administration is seeking for the November 2010 report to the President.


The audience was not planners, but every so often the conversation went beyond the “glitz and glitter” level and got deeper in terms of “how” are we going to connect outdoor spaces and communities. At these points in the discussion good planning became central, with the Chesapeake Bay model being held up as the future for landscape-level (regional interagency local/state/federal) planning. This model comes close to the NARRP recommendation to Secretary Salazar in our 2009 position paper entitled Support for the Great Outdoors America where we call to “Reframe the Role and Relevancy of Statewide Comprehensive Planning” (Recommendation #3, Strategy #2). A copy of the 2009 report is posted on the NARRP website.

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