NEW HAMPSHIRE – White Mountain National Forest was honored to have USDA Forest Service Interim Chief Vicki Christiansen attend a roundtable discussion about outdoor recreation economy in the region. Hosted by the Appalachian Mountain Club, as part of the White Mountain National Forest centennial, the roundtable highlighted the desire of public and private entities to forge relationships and work together to advance rural economic development through outdoor recreation. The event also celebrated the 50th anniversary of the National Trails Act.
Attendees varied from small business owners to state and federal employees including Dan Smith, deputy director of the National Park Service. Local and regional non-profits, representatives from the tourism industry and local community leaders concerned with economic development and conservation were also at the table. Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster gave remarks afterward along with representatives from Senator Shaheen’s and Senator Hassan’s offices.
Through discussions facilitated by Plymouth State University’s Center for the Environment, participants were asked to reflect on successes of the growing outdoor recreation economy and business trends throughout the White Mountain region. New Hampshire’s rural communities thrive on business opportunities largely generated from recreational tourism to the area. White Mountain National Forest is located within a day’s drive of more than 70 million people, significantly contributing to New Hampshire’s tourism economy, the second largest industry in the state.
Attendees were then asked to think about what will be needed in the future to continue to build a successful model. There were conversations about overcrowding and potential overuse. Excitement bubbled around how rural communities can continue to attract young families and engage entrepreneurs that want to live, work and play in the White Mountain region. Affordability of recreation activities was also discussed. In the end, everyone agreed there needs to be a balance between economic growth and the protection of natural resources across jurisdictions for future generations.
The Outdoor Industry Association estimates that New Hampshire’s outdoor recreation industry generates $8.7 billion in consumer spending annually, $2.6 billion in wages and salaries, and $528 million in state and local tax revenue. Nearly 80,000 jobs are directly attributed to outdoor recreation in the state. Sixty-nine percent of the state’s residents over the age of six participate in outdoor recreation each year, significantly above the national average of 49 percent.
A new Forest Service strategy entitled, Toward Shared Stewardship across Landscapes: An Outcome-based investment Strategy, aims to work in direct coordination with states using the most advanced science tools to identify landscape-scale priorities. Both federal, state and private managers of forest land face a range of urgent challenges, among them invasive species, storm impacts, insects and disease, and recreation demands. “The challenges before us require a new approach,” said Interim Chief Vicki Christiansen. “We will partner with state leaders shoulder-to-shoulder to co-manage risks, identify land management priorities. We will use all the tools available. The future is up to us.”