ALAMOSA — “All people, particularly all children, deserve nature and the outdoors,” said Outdoor Foundation Executive Director Lise Aangeenbrug at San Luis Valley Great Outdoors’ conference on Wednesday. “It is a fundamental right like clean air or clean water and we should be doing everything we can to ensure the outdoors is for all.”
Held at Adams State University, the conference had five presenters from around the Valley discuss outdoor recreation and the economy. Aangeenbrug, the keynote speaker, addressed the group at the end of the day with an overview of how recreation impacts the economy at the federal, state and local levels.
Before recently joining the Outdoor Foundation, which is the philanthropic arm of the Outdoor Industry Association, Aangeenbrug worked at the National Park Foundation and the Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) Trust Fund. Created in 1992, GOCO has invested $1.1 billion in the state from the lottery, which is up for reauthorization.
“That’s a really remarkable number and it’s the envy of every other state,” Aangeenbrug said. It’s more money than almost any federal agency spends in a single state and there’s no other state that has this funding source.”
GOCO has contributed $29 million in 13 community coalitions across the state—two of which are in the SLV.
According to Aangeenbrug, couples with a double income and without kids are driving the industry’s economic impact by purchasing outdoor equipment and traveling. A recent OIA study states that consumers annually spend $887 billion nationwide and create 7.6 million jobs. That generates $124.5 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue each year. In Colorado, outdoor recreation creates nearly four times as many jobs as the oil and gas industry and mining industry combined.
However, it’s the lower-income children who aren’t experiencing the outdoors as much. Aangeenbrug said that more than 60 percent of Denver Public School graduates have never been west of Arvada. Additionally, the average prisoner has more unstructured free time outside than the average American child.
“We’ve lost at least a generation,” said Aangeenbrug. “Fewer people are getting outside...this has very big implications for the outdoor industry, for communities, for our health and our welfare. Fewer people are experiencing the awe, the joy, and the wonder of the outdoors.”
More time outside can boost academic performance and workplace productivity as well as lower obesity rates and mental illness. A lack of recreation also impacts future generations.
“If people don’t know it, they won’t love it and if they won’t love it they won’t vote [to protect] it,” Aangeenbrug said.
One way to make recreation more inviting is by having diverse representation in marketing materials. Aangeenbrug said a self-fulfilling prophecy is created when people of color don’t see themselves in an advertisement for sports gear so they then don’t buy the gear, which leads to less visibility.
“A lot of times people think that people of color aren’t into the outdoors,” said Aangeenbrug. "One of the largest donors to the national parks is an African American man named Robert Smith, the founder of Lincoln Hills.” The organization is a Denver-based charity that motivates children to go outside.
Aangeenbrug ended her talk with a call to action, saying that it is up to the community, not a philanthropic organization like GOCO or OF, to make outdoor recreation successful.
“You have something pretty special here in the San Luis Valley. You have close-to-home spaces, river corridors, state lands, federal lands, but most importantly, you have a community that’s accustomed to working together collectively to get things done. That doesn’t exist everywhere.”