ABOUT US

The mission of the Coalition for Outdoor Access (COA) is to increase access to public lands for guided outdoor recreation and education activities.

VISION

The recreational permitting systems of federal land management agencies are responsive, efficient, transparent and provide plentiful and equitable recreational access opportunities for guides, outfitters, and outdoor recreation and education programs.

VALUES STATEMENT

COA believes in the value of transformative experiences in the outdoors. We also believe that outdoor educators, leaders, businesses and organizations play an important role in providing these experiences. We recognize the need for managing guided recreational use through permitting systems, but believe those systems should be responsive, efficient, transparent and should provide plentiful and equitable access opportunities. We believe the best way to realize our vision is through collaboration between guides, outfitters, outdoor programs and the land management agencies.

GOALS

  1. Increase access to public lands for guided outdoor recreation and education activities by improving the recreational permitting systems of the federal land management agencies in a way that meets the needs of all stakeholders.
  2.  Bring together the stakeholder community to work together to improve the recreation permitting systems of the land management agencies.

STRATEGIES

  1. Develop and advocate for legislative and administrative policies that improve the permitting systems of the land management agencies for all stakeholders.
  2. Develop relationships with federal land managers that allow for transparency and mutual education. Look for opportunities to support land managers in their work.
  3. Engage with and communicate with stakeholders who have an interest in the permitting systems of the land management agencies.

MEET THE COA STEERING COMMITTEE

The work of the Coalition for Outdoor Access is driven by a steering committee of dedicated outdoor professionals.  Steering committee members represent a variety of different outdoor industry sectors to encompass the interests of a broad network of stakeholders.

Jeanette Stawski, AORE

Why I’m on the Steering committee:

Personally, I am worried about access to public lands for my children. Professionally, I am worried that my members cannot do their work of introducing outdoor activities to 18-24-year old at a critical time in their life if they don’t have access to public lands.  I am so honored to work with this committee, and I am in awe with the capacity and professionalism each steering committee member possess.  To be able to work as a group that has differences of opinions AND stakeholders to serve to address thorny national level issues has been incredible.  The contributions in conversation, in the development of one pager for visits to the Hill, for responses to USFS response periods, calls to activation, and updates on legislation that effects AORE members is something that AORE can’t do singlehandedly.  I have personally enjoyed working with different sectors – conservation, non-profit, for-profit and the USFS.  It allows me to see various perspectives and process to make positive change.

Stakeholder group:

As individual guides, leaders, and educators, we each have a small voice in how we access and use public lands. We hope to share with our participants a positive experience, achieve an objective, or instill a sense of wonder in the special places that make up our nation’s wild lands. However, communicating our needs to those charged with creating the policies of how we access those lands can be challenging with that small voice. The impact of that challenge may be that a group of students does not have a classroom to learn about river ecology on a rafting trip, to practice teamwork and leadership on a high mountain backpacking excursion, or to assess risk during a ski tour.

Being involved in the Coalition for Outdoor Access (COA) joins the voice of AORE members with many others who share the same purpose of educating young people before the backdrop of the outdoors. The work of COA helps ensure that outdoor programmers and educators have seat at the table to provide their perspective, and to ultimately support access to public lands for their students and participants.

Paul Sanford, National Recreation Policy Director, The Wilderness Society

I am on the Steering Committee because I believe the work we are doing together will help the Wilderness Society connect more people to public lands. The members of this coalition have all struggled with the operation of the federal agencies’ permitting systems in some way. Individually, we were unable to change the system. However, collectively, we have been able to improve the dialog with agency staff and develop a solid legislative proposal in the Congress. The success of this work proves the value of collaboration around a shared goal. We are proud of this work and the momentum we have generated. However, we also recognize that there is a lot more work to do. 

Stakeholder group and why COA is important:

I work for a conservation organization that advocates for the protection of federal public lands and waters. We exist because we believe the majority of federal lands should be preserved and managed in a natural state for their own sake and for the enjoyment of present and future generations. COA provides a valuable mechanism for collaboration between a wide array of stakeholder groups that have an interest in guided recreation on public lands. It helps us coordinate our voices and more effectively demonstrate that there is widespread interest in making the recreation permitting systems work better.

What is an example of a problem your organization has had with permitting?

My organization does not provide outdoor programming directly. Instead, we work through partner organizations to provide outdoor experiences to young people. Our partner organizations have struggled to obtain permits in places where demand is high and agency resources are low. In some cases, they have waited years for the permits they need to take kids out on public lands. Other partners from the university outdoor recreation community run into problems complying with permit legal liability requirements, so they are essentially ineligible for permits. All of this means fewer opportunities to connect young people to public lands. 

Why do you think getting outside is important for people?

There are enormous benefits to spending time outside. We have so much technology and built environment in our lives. Those things have value, but it is essential that we balance them with time in settings that are natural and undeveloped. If we take that time, we discover that being outdoors connects us to the world around us in a fundamental and instinctive way. It can also provide the setting for developing stronger relationships with friends and family. These are not just abstract benefits. An accumulating body of scientific evidence demonstrates that being outdoors makes us happier, healthier, and also makes us more productive and more effective in our work. So, we can have our phones and our cars, but we should also commit ourselves to spending time outdoors and maintaining a close connection to the natural world. We will all be better off for it. 

Tell us about an amazing time you have had in the outdoors as part of a permitted group.

I went on a late-season canoe trip through the Yampa River canyon during the summer of 1999 with guide named Earl. Earl was a legend in the west. Paddling through the twists and turns of the river and the layers of rock with him as our geologist and guide made the trip really special. I remember us all lying on our backs in Laddy Campground the third night of the trip sipping wine and looking up at the Perseid Meteor Shower. I swear I saw a ball of fire in the sky. The trip was an experience I will never forget, and Earl made it all possible. I want to make It easier for more people to have these kinds of experiences. Working together, the Coalition for Outdoor Access will make that happen. 

Courtney Aber, National Director, YMCA Bold & Gold

Why I’m on the Steering committee:

I am a firm believer in the power of the outdoors.  I have seen what time outside can do for others and I have experienced it myself.  I love to spend time outside. It helps me find hope for the world. It helps me remember what is possible.  I want others to have that same opportunity. Natural places need to have advocates and without a connection to these special places I am not sure we will have that.

Your stakeholder group and why COA is important:

The stakeholder group I represent work to introduce young people to the outdoors.  We bring many youth out for their first camping trip. We want them to experience the beautiful natural places in this country, but we can’t legally take them there.  Without a permit we are unable to help young people discover what the outdoors has to offer.

What is an example of a problem your organization has had with permitting:

We have had several issues with getting permits.  Our program based in Seattle has had to take youth to Canada for rock climbing programs even though there is great climbing less than 2 hours away because we could not get a permit locally – there haven’t been permits issued in some National Forests near us in over 20 years.  We had a group in Idaho that was based hiking out of a camp. The camp is surrounded by lightly used National Forest lands, but they were not able to get a permit and had to backpack around the perimeter of the camp all week.

Why do you think getting outside is important for people?

The outdoors is an amazing tool to solve several of the issues we are facing as a society.  It’s a place where people come together to get to know each other as people not based on what they look like or how much money they make or where they live, but based on what they care about and who they are.  It’s a place for being and getting healthy – whether that’s through being active physically or calming down to reset our busy minds. It’s a place where we can go to get perspective on the world.

Tell us about an amazing time you have had in the outdoors as part of a permitted group.

I led a group of young people on a 3 week adventure doing a combination of backpacking, water water kayaking, and canoeing.  For many of them it was their first time in the backcountry. One girl on our trip was struggling with mental health issues and had been diagnosed with depression.  Others had struggled in school and with creating strong, positive friendships. It rained every day of our trip, but this group that struggled in so many other ways in their lives was amazing – they were positive and happy.  They took initiative and helped out without needing to be asked. They were full of wonder and appreciation for the beauty around us. They never complained despite the weather and other obstacles we faced. They taught me what a group working together in the wilderness can do – they can bring out the best in each of us.

Rebecca Bear, Director, Outdoor Programs and Experiences, REI

Why I’m on the Steering committee:

Rebecca currently works as Director of REI Experiences which delivers outdoor experiences and education to over 350,000 people annually through REI locations and in parks, forests and public lands around the country.  Our aspiration is to help all American’s have access to a life outdoors. We do this through fun, educational, community oriented experiences that make it easy to get outside by providing professional guides, gear, and access to great public lands.   We also work with vendor outfitters and over 300 nonprofit organizations around the country to help facilitate access to the outdoors as well. Rebecca co-founded the Coalition for Outdoor Access because she identified a pressing need within the industry to work together to make change in the permitting process for any organization that facilitates access to the outdoors.  Improvements in the permit system can and will increase access to the public, who often prefer to go with a guide for their first time outside. 

Stakeholder group:

REI Co-op Experiences represents large national outfitters on the COA steering committee, while also understanding the challenges of smaller outfitters, who are often our vendors in various regions of the country.  Larger outfitters tend to have an advantage in the permitting system because they have more resources to dedicate to tracking down and managing permits. Outfitters that have been operating for a long time, tend to have priority when it comes to renewal or expansion of their permits.  Since permits are one of the most important aspects of running a guide and outfitting business, it is important for all outfitters (large or small) to have a voice and to partner together to solve our collective challenges. Our goal is not to carve out slices of a limited pie of user days for more groups, but rather to make a bigger pie  – managing use better and allowing a variety of users (large, small, volunteer, NGOs, etc.) to have access to our public lands. Large outfitters can be resources to smaller organizations by sharing knowledge and helping guide them in a complex permitting process. In addition, larger outfitters can give back to the lands by providing stewardship and partnership.  Fundamentally, REI is a part of this coalition because we believe that change at the federal level requires a strong, diverse group of organizations that can speak to Congress about the needs of the outfitting community broadly.  

Cait Clough, Intern

Why I’m involved with COA:

I am involved with the Coalition for Outdoor Access because I believe everybody deserves the right to recreate and experience the physical and cognitive benefits outdoor spaces can offer. Throughout my career, I have worked as an educator and instructor in the outdoors with kids and folks with disabilities. My past experiences reinforce my belief that access to the outdoors should be available to everyone.

Currently, I am working towards my Masters in Social Work at the University of Michigan, specializing in social policy and evaluation. The work on this coalition allows for co-curricular learning and growth. As a member of the coalition, I am working with professionals across many different domains to understand the challenges their organization faces and advocate for changes in the permitting system. I believe in collaboration and collective action to create sustainable change.

Katherine Hollis, Conservation and Advocacy Director, The Mountaineers

Why I’m on the Steering committee:

Katherine considers herself one of the lucky ones, whose parents had her out enjoying public before she could walk. From learning to climb as a college student in Vermont, to over a decade as an instructor and program manager with Outward Bound in Colorado, North Carolina and Patagonia (including equity and inclusion work), Katherine has lived and worked at the intersection of conservation and recreation. She has also pursued her love of the outdoors through other means, obtaining her masters in Sustainable International Development which included completing thesis work in the mountainous country of Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia. She is thrilled to bring this mix of skills and passion to her work as Conservation and Advocacy Director at The Mountaineers, a century-old outdoor education and conservation organization based in Seattle, WA.

Stakeholder group:

The Mountaineers have been getting people outside responsibly for over a hundred years. We have been members of COA’s steering committee because we believe in the importance of improving access and equity to the outdoors, allowing people to experience the wonders of the natural world, which in turn supports the recreation economy and inspires people to care about the outdoor places they experience. COA’s work addresses an integral piece of who we are as Mountaineers: our volunteer-led trips, courses, and youth programs allow us to introduce people to the wonders of outdoor places through facilitated outdoor experiences. 

David Leinweber, Owner, Angler’s Covey

David has worked as a sales associate, manager, buyer, and owner in the outdoor retail and service industry for over 35 years. Companies he has worked for include; Mountain Miser, REI, Colorado Outdoor Sports, Chickenhead Mountain Sports, Gart Sports, and Grandwest Outfitters. For the last 20 years he has managed and owned Angler’s Covey a specialty fly shop and guide service located in beautiful Colorado Springs, Colorado. Angler’s Covey has developed a mission focused on teaching fly fishing through camps, classes, private lessons, and guided tours year-round. He promotes Angler’s Covey as the place to learn to fly fish and banks on customers buying their gear to outfit their adventure. In 2015 David took on a new challenge as founder of the Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance, partnering with the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC and Visit Colorado Springs to create a regional coalition of outdoor businesses, nonprofits, and land managers  working together to strengthen the outdoor recreation industry for the Pikes Peak region. As chairman, he promotes the value of the industry to the local community and brings together stakeholders to increase our outdoor amenities, create better access to recreational areas, and promote greater participation in outdoor activities.

All my life I have engaged in the outdoors and it has become foundational to the core of my faith and understanding of the world around me. Sharing these experiences with others seeking adventure has become my full-time occupation. As a Fly Fishing Outfitter and Specialty Retailer I get the privilege of showing people the world from my perspective on our local waters. As a Commercial Outfitter working on public lands it is challenging to provide the facilitated recreation my customers are looking for. Being a part of the Coalition for Outdoor Access (COA) steering committee allows me to share these challenges with other stakeholders and create possible solutions so that we can continue delivering memorable experiences to the public we all serve.

Stakeholder group: Commercial Outfitter

As a small Commercial Outfitter, we feel we have a small voice when it comes to gaining access to public lands on behalf of the customers we serve. Too often commercial outfitters are viewed as competing for space with the general public. In reality, we are serving the adventure-seeking public and providing an elevated experience – facilitating and maximizing outdoor recreation opportunities sometimes beyond the general public’s ability to achieve. In essence, we amplify the outdoor experience for the public looking for adventure.

Being a part of the Coalition for Outdoor Access (COA) team allows me to represent commercial outfitters wanting to provide memorable outdoor experiences. The work of COA helps ensure that commercial outfitters have a seat at the table to provide their perspective and to ultimately support access to public lands for all of our customers.

Challenges for Small Outfitters

Because of the difficulties navigating, applying for, administrating, and supervising commercial outfitting on public lands, land managers often just say no… No to increased user days, no to expanded services, and no to providing the public with new opportunities. Just this year because of capacity issues, all temporary permitting was suspended for the entire year.

Why Outdoor Activity is Good Medicine

The pursuit of fly fishing has become a key therapeutic treatment for those suffering from PTSD, certain cancers, as well as the stress of everyday life. This opportunity to set aside worries and distractions of the world and focus on the pursuit of a trout has helped thousands deal with personal challenges. These healing properties of engaging in the fresh outdoor air, rhythmic mountain streams, and the soothing sights and sounds of nature help people build positive experiences that can help shape a lifetime of memories.

Patricia Rojas-Unger, Vice President of Government Affairs, Outdoor Industry Association

Why I’m on the Steering committee:

Personally, I am worried about access to public lands for my children.  Professionally, I am worried that my members cannot do their work of introducing outdoor activities to 18-24-year old at a critical time in their life if they don’t have access to public lands.  I am so honored to work with this committee, and I am in awe with the capacity and professionalism each steering committee member possess.  To be able to work as a group that has differences of opinions AND stakeholders to serve to address thorny national level issues has been incredible.  The contributions in conversation, in the development of one pager for visits to the Hill, for responses to USFS response periods, calls to activation, and updates on legislation that effects AORE members is something that AORE can’t do singlehandedly.  I have personally enjoyed working with different sectors – conservation, non-profit, for-profit and the USFS.  It allows me to see various perspectives and process to make positive change.

Stakeholder group:

As individual guides, leaders, and educators, we each have a small voice in how we access and use public lands. We hope to share with our participants a positive experience, achieve an objective, or instill a sense of wonder in the special places that make up our nation’s wild lands. However, communicating our needs to those charged with creating the policies of how we access those lands can be challenging with that small voice. The impact of that challenge may be that a group of students does not have a classroom to learn about river ecology on a rafting trip, to practice teamwork and leadership on a high mountain backpacking excursion, or to assess risk during a ski tour.

Being involved in the Coalition for Outdoor Access (COA) joins the voice of AORE members with many others who share the same purpose of educating young people before the backdrop of the outdoors. The work of COA helps ensure that outdoor programmers and educators have seat at the table to provide their perspective, and to ultimately support access to public lands for their students and participants.

Matt Wade, Advocacy and Policy Director, AMGA

Matt Wade is the Advocacy and Policy Director for the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA). The AMGA provides training and certification for climbing instructors, mountain guides, and backcountry skiing guides in the United States. Matt works on behalf of the AMGA membership to expand opportunities for the public to access public lands with an instructor or guide. The Coalition for Outdoor Access is important to the work of the AMGA because it provides a nexus point for the AMGA to collaborate with the outdoor industry and the Federal land agencies on initiatives that improve access to public lands. Matt serves the Coalition for Outdoor Access as a member of the steering committee and as co-chair of the policy committee.