By Michelle Werts
Raise your hand if you love mountain biking, zip lining or basically any form of forest-based recreation. Guess what — for once both sides of Congress agree that they love forest recreation, too, and are using that love to create jobs and stimulate local economies.
Last week, President Obama signed the bipartisan Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act of 2011 into law. Ummm … great?!? Yes, great for all of the outdoor recreationists out there.
Since 1986, forest land leased from the USDA Forest Service was limited to only Nordic and alpine skiing activities, meaning ski resorts and mountain retreats often sat sad and alone during the summer months. Under the new law, these leased lands are now opened up to year-round recreation activities. So bring on the zip lines, rope courses, mountain bikes and concerts. And bring on the new jobs and revenue.
Ski areas leased from the Forest Service average 27 million visits annually, creating 80,000 jobs and generating $4 billion. This new law is expected to boost those numbers to the tune of 600,000 more visits, 600 new jobs and $40 million in revenue for the local economies.
What about the environment? Not to worry. The new law does not change the environmental parameters of the original 1986 law, meaning no destructive recreational activities are permitted: so no tennis courts, water parks and swimming pools, golf courses or amusement parks allowed. Any new activities on the leased land will still need to go through the same approval process that the building of ski lifts and other activities have to go through.
In a world with daily reports of politicians bickering, depressing unemployment rates, scandals and more, it’s refreshing to see positive, bipartisan news. I’m glad that us nature lovers will have a chance to experience new pieces of nature in the coming summers and that they will still be protected and looked after as they deserve. I’m glad more Americans may be able to eke out a living with new job opportunities. I’m glad that once in awhile we can all come together in support of our forests because as USDA Forest Chief Tom Tidwell says, “The national forests have always been some of America’s greatest playgrounds.”