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Benefits of Facilitated Recreation

What exactly is facilitated recreation? Facilitated recreation refers to the process of organizing and leading recreational activities in a structured and engaging manner to ensure participants have a positive and enjoyable experience. 

The term “facilitated” implies that there is a skilled individual or facilitator guiding the recreational activities. These individuals may work for a recreation center, park district, or other organization that offers outdoor programs. Facilitators may also work independently, leading their own tours or workshops.

Participant-facing outdoor facilitators must have a strong understanding of the activities they lead, as well as the skills and knowledge necessary to keep participants safe. They must also be able to communicate effectively with participants of all ages and abilities.

Having a skilled facilitator is a great way to help others enjoy the great outdoors. 

What are the benefits of facilitated recreation? 

Facilitated recreation offers a wide range of benefits for participants of all ages and backgrounds, from skill development to stress relief. Here are some of the ways a facilitated recreation program can elevate the experience for the groups they lead:

  • Outdoor facilitators remove barriers for participants. Facilitators encourage inclusivity for people who may not otherwise have access such as people with disabilities, anxiety, physical limitations, typically marginalized groups etc. Enjoying outdoor experiences can be challenging at best, and oftentimes an insurmountable barrier facilitators can help remove.
  • Outdoor facilitators help with risk management, as most of whom are required to have first aid and CPR training at a minimum. Facilitators provide more eyes and ears for potential issues and enhance the ability to provide emergency services. 
  • Outdoor facilitators educate as they lead experiences – proper technique, history of area, value of conservation, etc. Respect for the land is fostered through shared experiences led by experts within outdoor recreation.
  • Outdoor facilitators are advocates for sustainable use and good outdoor ethics.  Facilitators understand the importance of conservation and share how important habitat and conserved lands and waters are to all.
  • Outdoor facilitators are leaders that provide a knowledgeable and safe experience for all who recreate. Outdoor recreation is also a great avenue to develop leadership skills. 
  • Outdoor facilitators help participants see the mental health benefits of the outdoors. Facilitators help with the previously mentioned areas, allowing participants to unwind and not stress about other responsibilities. Time in the outdoors can bring stress relief and improve mental clarity. 

Facilitators create an environment that encourages active participation, learning, and social interaction among the participants. The overall goal for facilitators should always be to enhance the overall enjoyment for all, regardless of age, ability level, or background. 

What is the future of facilitated recreation?

According to the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (ORR), the outdoor recreation’s visibility has grown across the United States. The industry is now valued at nearly $1 trillion annual by the U.S. Department of Commerce due to the amount of Americans enjoying the outdoors. Behind this impact is the 4.5 million outdoor workers, including the facilitators. 

With the unprecedented growth of the outdoor recreation industry and the increased use on our public lands, many are looking into what the future of outdoor recreation will look like in America. While we don’t have all the answers yet, the Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education (AORE) is working to empower the outdoor workforce to be relevant and connected. 

As the industry continues to move forward facing challenges head on, we are seeing the questions arise such as: 

  • Hiring:  How do we develop a more diverse and equitable workforce?
  • Pay:  How can we compensate staff with fair, equitable wages for work when their job often requires overnight to over a week, 24 hours a day?
  • Housing:  How can we pay and also provide housing in communities where work is needed with rising housing costs and lack of affordable housing?
  • Certifications:  How do we understand what certification and training are required, how these can be provided economically with an industry with limited or no professional development AND how to determine which certification and training providers are reputable?
  • Training:  How can we compensate staff for attending training and also make sure that trainer providers are fairly compensated?
  • Risk and Liability:  With a litigious society, and many facilitated activities happening outside of definitive care, how do we best navigate risk assessment, insurance, and liability?
  • Sustainability:  Facilitating people on and in natural areas can leave a lasting impact.  How do we recreate responsibility, have equitable access to permits that are not time or cost prohibitive, and also deal with impacts of climate change and reduction in conservation staffing?

Additionally, the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable produced a comprehensive  whitepaper that identifies a Roadmap for a 21st Century Outdoor Workforce.  These questions and more are further discussed and ideas to move forward are presented.

We also have this handy PDF with the benefits of facilitated recreation to share with your networks, administrators, and more.

Reimagine Recreation: We need your support and input!

The USDA Forest Service is looking to us and other facilitated recreation providers to be part of a conversation about Reimagining Recreation and help chart a shared path forward.

This engagement is a continuation of the Reimagine Recreation: Knowledge-Sharing Workshop, which was held from July 18-20, 2023, and connected with over 80 partner organizations.  To garner further support and input on the topics, members of the Coalition for Outdoor Access, America Outdoors, and the National Forest Recreation Association have been invited to be a part of a dedicated follow-up engagement to expand Forest Service knowledge around specific challenges and opportunities facing the recreation special use permit holder community.

The purpose of the workshop is to learn from one another’s experiences, illuminate shared interests, and create a space for recreation special use permit holders and staff to speak openly around three key topics:

  • Equity and Access in Action: Improving access and equity to the outdoors.
  • Cross-Boundary Collaboration: Making recreation systems easier; Removing barriers which limit or prevent facilitated access.
  • From Recreation to Conservation: Leveraging the power and passion of recreationists to protect federal public lands and waters.


Meeting Information

  • Day: Wednesday, October 4, 2023
  • Time: 1 pm – 3 pm Eastern, 11 am – 1 pm Mountain
  • Format: Virtual, over Microsoft Teams LINK
  • Contact: Ben Johnson, National Recreation Special Uses Program Manager for a meeting invitation (

Your voice is critical to ensure that we are all working together to improve access, remove barriers, use the power of our organizations to support, take care of, and protect our federal lands and waters.

No groups are better suited to provide the necessary inputs to help move the needle than the members of the Coalition for Outdoor Access, America Outdoors, and the National Forest Recreation Association.

Please join us for this effort!

COA Submits Comments on NPS On-Line Permit Application System

Today, the Coalition for Outdoor Access submitted detailed comments on the National Park Service’s on-line commercial use authorization application and reporting system. NPS announced the rollout of the system on July 26, 2023. You can read more about the announcement here.

Commercial use authorizations (CUAs) are one of the primary ways in which the National Park Service authorizes guided recreation use in the National Park system. These authorizations are governed by the Concessions Management Improvement Act of 1998. The requirements and limitations for CUAs can be found in 54 U.S.C. § 101925

In its comments, COA congratulated NPS on the rollout of the on-line system. We noted that the system will make the acquisition of CUAs easier and more efficient. We also commended the Park Service for including functionality for telling the public where CUA opportunities exist. This will make NPS recreation opportunities more visible and equitable. 

COA also expressed support for NPS’s plan to standardize the application fee for CUAs. This is an important step, because there has been significant variation in the amount of the application fee at different locations through the National Park system. 

At the same time, COA’s comments argued that a standardized $350 application fee is too high. While this would be a reduced fee in some high profile locations, it would be a significant increase in other locations, and may create a barrier to access for small operators that serve historically excluded communities. It is particularly impactful since paying the fee is no guarantee that the applicant will receive a permit. 

COA joined with its member organization the American Mountain Guides Association in urging NPS set the application fee at $250 and recover a higher proportion of the cost through the management fee imposed on CUA holders. This approach will ensure the burden of cost recovery is carried primarily by those who have an opportunity to generate revenue through a CUA.

COA also urged NPS to acknowledge the limitations of 54 U.S.C. § 101925(d), which reads: 

(d) Nonprofit Institutions.— Nonprofit institutions are not required to obtain commercial use authorizations unless taxable income is derived by the institution from the authorized use.

Our comments explained that in the overwhelming majority of cases, outdoor program providers that are recognized as tax exempt organizations under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code do not generate taxable income when they charge for outdoor educational programs that are squarely within their “exempt function.” COA urged NPS to increase compliance with this provision of the law governing CUAs by providing more training to NPS staff and by including a notification in its on-line application system the nonprofit organizations are not required to obtain CUAs in most circumstances. 

You can read COA’s comments on the NPS proposal here

SOAR Act Among Bills Likely to Receive Congressional Action this Fall

The Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation Act (SOAR Act)—the permitting reform legislation that could bring much needed updates to the federal process for the permitting of guides, outfitters and educational institutions on public lands—is potentially headed for the home stretch this fall. As part of the package of recreation bills known as America’s Outdoor Recreation Act (AORA), the SOAR Act would provide long overdue reforms for guide and outfitter permitting such as standardizing the types of permits that can be issued, and fees that can be charged by federal land managers. SOAR Act also creates two new types of permits that federal agencies can issue, creates an incentive program for unused service days to be made available to others, provides for multijurisdictional permits, and directs the agencies to take steps that make the permitting process easier, faster and more efficient.

Congress nearly enacted the SOAR Act last year after it was integrated into AORA and passed out of the SENR Committee with unanimous consent. Senators Manchin and Barrasso reintroduced AORA this Congress—including the SOAR Act provisions—and the bill again sailed through committee last June. A companion SOAR Act in the US House of Representatives has also enjoyed unanimous support and is expected to be included in a House version of the AORA package. Depending on what happens with the government shutdown, enactment could come as early as October but it may take Congress the rest of the year to find time and take action. While AORA remains widely supported with very little opposition, the Coalition for Outdoor Access continues to aggressively advocate for getting AORA and the SOAR Act across the finish line. Stay tuned for updates as things progress.

2023 Outlook for the SOAR Act

The Coalition for Outdoor Access’ highest policy priority is passage of the Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation Act, or SOAR Act. The SOAR Act is the product of more than eight years of collaboration between a broad community of stakeholders and Members of Congress. It would help fix the federal recreational permitting process that creates barriers for people to experience the outdoors. 

In March 2023, the SOAR Act was reintroduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representative John Curtis (R-UT) and Representative Joe Neguse (D-CO). The bill, H.R. 1527, is nearly identical to the version introduced in the previous session of Congress. 

In the Senate, the SOAR Act was reintroduced by Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) as S. 1630. The SOAR Act was also included in a larger package of outdoor recreation bills, the America’s Outdoor Recreation Act, or AORA (S. 873). The Senate version of the SOAR Act that was included in AORA contains several significant improvements over the previous versions of the SOAR Act. You can learn more about the changes in this slide deck.

AORA unanimously passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in May 2023 and awaits action by the full Senate. Meanwhile, the House Natural Resources Committee intends to pass their own package of outdoor recreation bills in the fall of 2023, including the SOAR Act. 

The Coalition for Outdoor Access supports the Senate version of the SOAR Act that is included in AORA, and continues to work with our champions in the House and Senate to advance the AORA language. We anticipate that the most likely vehicle for passage of the SOAR Act is through passage of AORA, and eventual reconciliation with the House. We’ll keep you updated as this process continues. 

Proposed National Park Service Online Portal Will Modernize Commercial Use Authorization Applications and Reporting

The National Park Service (NPS) is seeking comments on a new online Commercial Use Authorization (CUA) system intended to standardize, modernize, and streamline the application and reporting process.

For 25 years commercial service providers in national parks and other NPS lands that do not operate under a concession contract have been required to obtain a CUA. The CUA application and reporting systems have long been out-of-date, inconsistent, and inefficient for both CUA applicants and NPS administrators. This new online process will be available to a range of commercial service providers such as guided climbing, boat tours, and horseback trips, but will not affect road-based commercial tour operators who will have their own online system eventually.

In addition to new online CUA applications and reporting, the NPS intends the new system to collect fees and allow the public to view all available CUA opportunities. The online portal would provide educational materials for applicants—such as user guides, demonstration videos, and FAQs—to support successful applications. CUA fees will also be collected through the online system and will start at a minimum of $350.

The new system will go online December 1, 2023 for 2024 CUAs in some parks that opted into the first phase (by October the NPS will provide a list of which NPS units will start online applications this December). All NPS units will use the online system starting December 1, 2024, for the 2025 CUA season at which time a standard CUA application fee will be the same across all NPS units and will be reviewed every two years for any adjustments.

The public comment period closes on September 20, 2023. More information can be found at the Park Service website:

COA Submits Comments on Forest Service Cost Recovery Rule

Today, the Coalition for Outdoor Access submitted detailed comments on the U.S. Forest Service’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Cost Recovery. Our comments stated COA’s opposition to the proposed rule and urged the Forest Service to reconsider its plan to increase cost recovery fees for recreation special use permits. 

COA’s comments were submitted in response to a notice, published on March 9, 2023, in which the Forest Service proposed to increase the cost recovery fees charged to recreation special use permit holders. The proposed rule would increase fees in several ways:

  1. The Forest Service would begin charging cost recovery fees for the “proposal” phase of the application process. Currently, the meter doesn’t start running until an activity proposal has completed its initial review and becomes a formal application. This will increase up front costs for  outdoor leaders seeking permits. 
  2. The Forest Service would eliminate the 50-hour exemption for recreation special use permits. Currently, the first 50 hours of processing time is exempt from cost recovery. Under the proposed rule, this exemption would be eliminated. As a result, permit applicants would begin paying cost recovery fees from the moment they submit a proposal or begin discussing a proposal with the agency. 
  3. The Forest Service would adjust the current schedule of cost recovery fees upward to reflect the increasing costs for staff time needed to process recreation special use applications. 

COA based its opposition to the proposed rule on two core principles:

  1. Guided outdoor recreation and recreation events provide benefits to the public and to the Forest Service that differentiate them from non-recreational special uses.
  2. Because of the financial realities in the outdoor programming space, the proposed increase in cost recovery fees will have an outsized impact on outdoor leaders. 

Based on these principles, COA identified four main concerns with the proposed increase in fees. 

  1. The proposed rule would impose significant costs that will burden a wide range of recreation service providers, including small nonprofit outdoor program providers and similar affinity groups, college and university recreation programs, small outfitters, larger outfitters, independent guides, and recreation event sponsors.  
  2. The proposed rule directly contradicts equity goals and promises of both the Forest Service and the Biden administration, as outlined in the Forest Service’s Equity Action Plan and the administration’s America the Beautiful Campaign.  
  3. The Forest Service has not adequately demonstrated how the proposed rule will improve customer service such that the benefits will outweigh the costs. 
  4. The proposed rule does not increase consistency between the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on cost recovery. 

In addition to the members of COA’s Steering Committee members, ten organizations signed on to the COA comment:

You can read the COA comment here.

AORA Passes Senate Committee

The Coalition for Outdoor Access is excited to share that our top legislative priority, the Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation Act (SOAR Act), unanimously passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. This bill will improve the federal recreational permitting process for outfitters, educational organizations, and community groups to access public land. The SOAR Act was included in a larger package of outdoor recreation bills, the America’s Outdoor Recreation Act (AORA), S. 873.

On May 17, 2023, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a markup of AORA and 18 other public lands, recreation, and energy bills. AORA passed out of the Committee by a voice vote, and will now move to the Senate floor for full consideration. The bipartisan bill was celebrated by Senators on both sides of the aisle. 

Read more about the markup:

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: 

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