Inslee calls for new initiative promoting outdoor recreation

OLYMPIA — Outdoor recreation is a multi-billion-dollar industry supporting more than a quarter-million jobs in the state.

Gov. Jay Inslee says Washington can do better. On Thursday, Inslee announced the creation of a task force aimed at getting more people — from tourists to school kids — outside and enjoying the state’s natural areas.

“Getting people outdoors helps us — not just spiritually and educationally, but also economically,” he said in a speech to nearly 100 representatives of outdoor recreation nonprofit groups and state natural resource agencies working together under the newly-formed Big Tent Coalition.

He cited several findings in a recent report from the Outdoor Industry Association, which estimated that the $22.5 billion spent on outdoor recreation each year in Washington supports 227,600 jobs and generates more than $1.5 billion in state and local tax revenue. The number of outdoor recreation jobs in Washington earned it a ranking of sixth in the nation, according to the association. At the top of the list was California, followed by Florida, New York, Texas and Georgia, which was just above Washington with 230,000 outdoor recreation jobs.

Inslee’s task force will have 15 members, including four state legislators. The roster is expected to be finalized in a couple of weeks. The task force will hold several meetings around the state over the next nine months. By October, the task force will begin making policy recommendations to Inslee, the Legislature and various government agencies.

The task force will study how other state governments, such as Utah, have taken a more aggressive and focused approach to promoting outdoor recreational opportunities, said J.T. Austin, Inslee’s natural resources policy adviser.

State Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Bruce Botka said state agencies like his never gave much consideration to economic growth. That has changed in recent years as Fish and Wildlife, the state Department of Natural Resources and Washington State Parks have had to rely more on user fees and other revenues.

Botka admits that past governors have called for similar initiatives promoting outdoor recreation.

“But this governor doesn’t just talk about the outdoors,” he said, noting Inslee’s well-known love for the outdoors.

Inslee is an avid hiker and regularly kayaks near his Bainbridge Island home. When last week’s snows hit, he explored the capital’s campus on cross country skis.

Outdoor recreation was a key part of his upbringing, starting with regular wildlife-watching hikes with his parents on Mount Rainier.

“My early experiences connected me to what this state is — a beautiful place,” he said. “But I was lucky.”

Inslee is concerned that fewer children are spending time outdoors.

“For the first time in our history, our children’s life spans will be shorter than my generation’s,” he said, citing rising child obesity rates.

“We need to get kids off their rears and into the woods,” he said.

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