Author: Traci Schalow

Jeanette Stawski

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

Why I’m on the steering committee:
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.

Betsy Robblee

Why I’m on the steering committee:
An outdoor education nonprofit organization located in Seattle, Washington, The Mountaineers have been getting people outside responsibly for over a hundred years. As the Conservation and Advocacy Director, Betsy leads The Mountaineers conservation and advocacy programming, including driving partnerships, executing advocacy campaigns and communications, and supporting fundraising efforts that result in long-term outcomes to protect public lands and the outdoor experience. We are 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.

Stakeholder group:
The Mountaineers represents volunteer-led groups on the steering committee. 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.

Courtney Aber

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.

David Leinweber

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.

Jeremy Oyen

Why I’m on the Steering committee:
I believe that access to public lands is critical to the health and wellness of our society. Working together with representatives from across the country, representing varied stakeholder groups, we have come together to foster a combined effort to ensure that access to public lands is available to everyone. Improving the permitting system will help address access issues for those looking to participate in facilitated outdoor recreation (guided opportunities) and those looking to go-it on their own.

Jeremy currently works as the Field Operations Manager for 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. At REI, we believe that a life outdoors is a life well lived and we aspire to help all American’s have access to the outdoors, from local parks to the iconic wildernesses. We do this through providing fun, educational, community-oriented experiences that make it easy to get outside by providing professional guides, gear, and access to great public lands. Our work also includes collaborating with vendor outfitters and over 300 nonprofit organizations around the country, helping further facilitate access to the outdoors.

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.

Jonathan “J.W.” Williams

Why I’m on the steering committee:
J.W. is the Director of Public Policy for the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and lives full time in Lander, Wyoming. As a former whitewater rafting guide and ski patroller, J.W. knows first hand the powerful and transformative experiences that are made possible by adventuring in and learning about wild places. His passion for the outdoors and love for seeing how people/cultures connect to their surrounding landscapes led him to embark on a 9-month bicycle trip from Mexico to Argentina. J.W. appreciates the Coalition for Outdoor Access (COA) and their ongoing effort to work alongside other members of the outdoor industry and the U.S. land management agencies to improve access to America’s great outdoors.

Stakeholder group:
NOLS is a non-profit that strives to be the leading source and teacher of wilderness skills and leadership that serves people and the environment. While the school is headquartered in Wyoming, it has several operating locations around the U.S. and the world. Apart from wilderness expeditions, NOLS also offers training in wilderness medicine and rescue skills, and students of all skill types are eligible to receive college credit through the University of Utah.

Matt Wade

Why I’m on the steering committee:
Matt Wade is the Deputy 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.

Stakeholder group:
The American Mountain Guides Association represents for-profit and non-profit guide services, schools, gyms, and outdoor education institutions that provide rock climbing, mountaineering, and backcountry skiing experiences. The AMGA serves on the COA steering committee as an At-Large member.

Rebecca Bear

Rebecca co-founded the Coalition for Outdoor Access while leading REI’s Experiences division. In 2013, She identified a pressing need within the outdoor education and guiding industry to work as a coalition of organizations to make change in the permitting process. 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. She continues to build coalitions around equitable access to parks and open space through her work as the President and CEO of the Seattle Parks Foundation. Rebecca served as Chair of COA for its first 4 years. She now serves in an ex-officio capacity.

The SOAR Act Needs Your Voice This Week

On Thursday, December 2nd, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a a hearing on nine recreation bills. The hearing included the SOAR Act and the recently introduced Manchin/Barrasso Outdoor Recreation Act. You can watch a recording of the hearing on the Committee’s website.

It will be very helpful for the Committee to receive letters in support of SOAR and other bills in the hearing. Given the likelihood that these bills will be compiled into the first ever recreation package, the value of your voice this week cannot be understated. Please consider sending a short letter of support for the SOAR Act and any other bills you wish to endorse.

The Committee will be accepting letters until December 11, 2021. 

To make this easy, COA put together a basic template (.docx) you can use. The areas highlighted in yellow should be personalized as much as possible. Individual stories and experiences are most impactful. That said, you are welcome to use the preformatted content if you prefer.

If you wish, you can also review a copy of the COA’s full testimony (PDF). Please use any aspect of the COA testimony in your own comments if you wish. Thank you for your continued support of this longstanding effort to improve access for facilitated outdoor recreation on public lands.

Template SOAR Act Support Letter (.docx)

COA Testimoney (PDF)

Send letters to Ms. Darla Ripchensky: darla_ripchensky@energy.senate.gov 

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MISSION

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