“Keep close to Nature’s heart,” wrote John Muir, America’s most famous naturalist, “and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods.
“Wash your spirit clean,” Muir concluded, sounding not at all like a man with dollar signs in his eyes.
More than a century later, Washington public officials are well aware that outdoor recreation generates thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity.
Our assets range from ocean shore to river’s edge to the summit of Mount Rainier, which Muir reached in 1888, saving high praise for scenery he saw along the route.
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Pierce County, blessed with that spectacular mountain and more than our share of other natural wonders, has good reason to protect, preserve and share them. Folks here are entitled to capture a financial return while taking care not to endanger beauty so priceless.
That’s why the Pierce County Council last week created an advisory panel, the Outdoor Sports and Recreation Council. The effort was led by Republican council members Pam and Dan Roach, who represent East Pierce County, and Connie Ladenburg, a Tacoma Democrat.
We’re glad to see they belatedly diversified the panel’s composition, although it still leans toward fishing and hunting interests.
By unanimous vote, in a special meeting held Wednesday at the Sumner Sportsmen’s Club, the County Council made clear they want to improve access, maximize tourism and expand an already strong sector of the local economy.
Outdoor recreation pumps $20.5 billion a year into Washington and supports nearly 200,000 jobs around the state, according to a study released in 2015 by the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office. At the time, the analysis said, activity on Washington’s 23 million acres of public land supported more jobs than information technology, more than aerospace.
In Pierce County, the great outdoors is credited with a $1.6 billion impact and 17,243 jobs, according to the statewide report produced by Earth Economics, a Tacoma-based consultant.
What’s more, year-round outdoor recreation funnels needed cash into small rural communities. Where would local outposts such as Greenwater, Ashford and Elbe be without that lifeblood to sustain them?
“The recreation market is unquestionably one of the largest markets in the state for moving income from urban to rural areas and building sustainable jobs in rural Washington State,” the report says.
The county’s new advisory panel is set to expire in two years — a focused effort without adding another permanent arm of bureaucracy.
When conceived this summer, plans called for three representatives from fishing groups, three from hunting groups and three from off-road sports groups (horsemen, mountain bikers, all-terrain vehicle users).
The Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shop demographics were well represented. The REI crowd? Definitely not.
A council committee later agreed to give The Mountaineers a seat at the table, correcting a major oversight.
The Mountaineers (whose oldest branch is in Tacoma) has been a cornerstone of the Northwest hiking, climbing, skiing and land conservation scene since 1906. Not including them would have damaged the advisory panel immediately.
Then, before Wednesday’s final vote, County Council members wisely added three more voices: the Washington Trails Association, Pacific Northwest Ski Association and a member involved in paddle sports.
Widening the circle will provide valuable insights beyond what the barbs and bullets experts can offer.
But at least one missing piece remains; the Tacoma Washington Bicycle Club or other road cycling representative should be included, especially as the Foothills Trail expansion winds down and the county invests in other trails.
Pam Roach said in an email Wednesday night that the panel’s composition may yet change. “That would be by addition once we see what we might have missed. Hopefully, we’ve done a fairly good job.”
Notwithstanding the disproportionate clout of some interests, we’d say the new Outdoor Sports and Recreation Council holds promise.
It’s never a bad idea to open the windows of government and let fresh air blow in.