America’s Outdoor Recreation Act of 2023 introduces three programs aimed at investment in outdoor recreation infrastructure poised to prop up the equipment industry.
America’s Outdoor Recreation Act (AORA) was introduced on March 16 by U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee, and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), ranking member of the ENR Committee. One focus of the act is the development of outdoor recreational areas.
The legislation provides ways for third parties to invest in repairing or building outdoor recreational-related infrastructure that wouldn’t cost taxpayers more money, a Democratic staffer with knowledge of the issue told Equipment Finance News.
“The entire bill was intentionally written to improve recreation experiences and opportunities for economic growth without costing the government [or taxpayers] anything, so we intentionally avoided programs that required folks to receive additional federal funding,” the staffer said. “We have three new programs authorized that make it easier for third parties to invest money to repair or build new infrastructure.”
3 programs may impact industry
One program would enable local governments to cover the costs of keeping federal sites open longer in the shoulder seasons, the staffer said.
Meanwhile, another “program would enable a new type of financing called conservation financing to be used to build out recreation-focused infrastructure projects, whereby a party that would benefit from the increased visitors funds the project through an innovative loan program,” the staffer said.
A third program enables private companies to have longer-term federal permits and take over the operation of federal campgrounds if they commit to investing high-level capital improvement funding for the site.
Senator Barrasso’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Economics of recreation
Outdoor recreation generated $862 billion in economic output and 4.5 million jobs in 2021, according to data from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis.
The act would direct the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to consider ways to improve recreation when developing and revising land management plans; provide technical and financial assistance to local businesses — including hotels, campgrounds and restaurants — to support visitation in rural communities; and direct agencies to work with the Department of Commerce to construct broadband internet infrastructure at certain recreation sites, according to a Democratic news release from the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
There is also a provision that will allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture to work with people and businesses near recreational sites, the staffer said.
“It is worth noting that there is also a provision directing USDA’s Rural Development (RD) program to work with folks that want to start new businesses in gateway communities,” the staffer said. “USDA RD would educate people who want to open up businesses near recreation sites about RD’s existing programs and help them with the application paperwork.”
AORA is moving through committee, the staffer said, noting that the bill is simultaneously moving through the House of Representatives.
“Now that the bill is introduced in the Senate, our committee would likely hold a business meeting to process the bill and vote it out of committee in the next month or so,” the staffer said. “After, it will be eligible for action on the Senate floor.”