December 7th, 2012 by

Tired of hearing about how gridlock in Washington is preventing our country from moving forward on important issues? Well, here’s some good news for you!

Youth Conservation Corps crew

Youth Conservation Corps crew clean and weed around a water control structure. Credit: USFWS

The Obama administration released the America’s Great Outdoors 2012 Progress Report on Tuesday, and the results look good. Here at American Forests, we support the America’s Great Outdoors initiative (AGO) and believe in the benefits of outdoor recreation and connecting people with nature. So you can imagine our delight to read about the many successes AGO has racked up in its first two years.

Launched in April 2010, AGO is based on the principle that some of “the best ideas come from outside Washington,” as the administration puts it. This means local community entities are the ones actually implementing projects on the ground with the help of federal support and cooperation. So, how well has AGO performed in meeting its goals of connecting Americans to the great outdoors, making the outdoors more accessible and restoring landscapes? Well, here are some exciting numbers:

  • Let’s start with zero. That’s how much members of our armed services will have to pay for entrance to our national parks, forests and wildlife refuges with the new America the Beautiful pass. It certainly makes sense to thank those who bravely serve our country — often in dangerous warzones — by increasing their access to the country’s “best idea” and places of peace and tranquility.
  • Four. That’s the number of new national monuments designated by President Obama this year, including Fort Ord and Cesar E. Chavez in California and Chimney Rock in Colorado.
  • Nine. The number of water trails created so far as part of the new National Water Trails System, designed to connect people and communities to waterways for recreation.
  • 20. According to the report, that’s the percentage of increase in participation in the Youth Conservation Corps this year! This program, along with increased internships in our national public lands, is fostering the next generation of land management and natural resource professionals. The future looks bright!
  • How about 23,000? That’s the number of acres of wetland in the Everglades that the United States Department of Agriculture has provided funding to restore with the help of local farmers and ranchers.
  • Just one more I can’t resist: three million. In the Southeast, the $3 million Longleaf Stewardship Fund was established to restore longleaf pine to the region. We’re working toward that goal ourselves and glad to see others joining the effort!

An Everglades waterway

An Everglades waterway. Credit: Chauncey Davis/Flickr

These are just a small percentage of the great programs and successes you can read about in the full report. For any lover of the outdoors, these numbers should brighten your day, but you don’t have to be a backpacker or an angler to feel the positive repercussions of these initiatives. For economics buffs, the Outdoor Industry Association estimates that our great outdoors provides us with 6.1 million jobs and $646 billion in direct economic activity. That’s without even mentioning tax revenue! And for those of you whose measures of success take on a more idealistic streak, America’s Great Outdoors initiative also represents an unprecedented level of public involvement in a major government initiative. The conservation action plan was the result of 51 public listening sessions and more than 100,000 public comments. We the people have spoken on how important our public lands are — for their economic and job-creating value, their health benefits and, of course, for fun in the awe-inspiring great outdoors! It seems Washington was listening.

To find out how you can get out into America’s great outdoors, check out recreation.gov, another AGO project.