Today, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell released a Secretary’s Order to decrease barriers for disadvantaged and under-resourced youth to access America’s public lands and waters.
This order honors the legacy and recent passing of noted conservationist and philanthropist Doug Walker – a valued mentor and supporter of The Mountaineers work – who devoted his time, energy and resources to many educational and environmental organizations. This is a step towards continuing his mission to ensure young people from all backgrounds have an opportunity to experience the natural world.
“Doug Walker taught us that many at-risk young people stand at a crossroads where a connection to our public lands can literally change the direction of their lives,” said Secretary Jewell. “I can’t think of a more fitting way to honor his life and legacy than making it easier to welcome young people to the great outdoors.”
Doug’s tireless advocacy raised awareness with federal public land management agencies of the barriers and opportunities that exist to better serve this important population. As a outdoor education and conservation organization that’s been getting people outside for 110 years, we believe in the many health benefits of spending time in nature, and applaud work that reduces barriers for disadvantaged youth to get outdoors. People need to experience our wild places in order to want to protect them.
As members of the Outdoor Access Working Group, The Mountaineers are committed to working with other outdoor recreation organizations and companies, government agencies and local communities to streamline and create transparency in the permitting process, increase access, build stronger partnerships, and create solutions for facilitated access for the public.
“We should do everything we can to introduce newcomers to public lands that belong to all Americans,” said Jewell, who learned to climb with The Mountaineers as a teenager in our basic climbing course. “By streamlining the permitting process, we can knock down barriers that stand in the way of welcoming young people to enjoy, explore and experience nature.”
We look at the Secretary’s order as an example of the outdoor industry and community groups coming together with one powerful voice – which can lead to better public policy.
The order is directed towards the National Park Service, Department of Fish and Wildlife, Bureau of Land Management, and the Bureau of Reclamation, to take “immediate and concrete steps to facilitate access by disadvantaged and under-resourced youth to lands managed by their respective bureau.” It impacts youth under 26 years old and in groups where at least 70 percent of the participants are disadvantaged and under-resourced, and encourages the use of available discretion and flexibility -such as increasing group size limits, and decreasing or waiving fees – to support prompt access.
We’re excited Sally Jewell has taken this important step towards getting all people outside to experience the wonder of the outdoors. We hope that this secretarial order helps energize other land management agencies to break down bureaucratic barriers that prohibit folks from getting outside on our public lands and waterways. We look forward to changes in permitting processes that will increase opportunities to introduce more people to the public lands we love while being responsible stewards for these wild places.