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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.