The State of North Carolina announced its intention to host the second-ever “Confluence Summit” for state-level outdoor recreation leaders in Asheville this July. There are currently eight states–Colorado, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming–with an office, director or task force dedicated to the well-being of the outdoor recreation industry and to greater public access to outdoor experiences.
To assure robust participation from across the country, the REI Co-op has committed to fund travel for these outdoor leaders, and their delegations, who are developing a multi-state vision for connecting Americans with the outdoors.
“Gatherings like this can be a model for the future. They look to bridge across local, state and federal stakeholders to create a sense of shared mission and responsibility,” said REI CEO Jerry Stritzke. “This work can be foundational for creating a next generation that loves and cares for the outdoors, and is vital in shaping the future of our towns, states and country.”
In 2017, as several states were establishing these leadership positions, the State of Colorado saw an opportunity to foster a shared vision for the future of the outdoors, to share best practices and, ideally, create a set of cross-state policy principles for maximizing the sector’s many benefits. At the urging of Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, the state’s Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, led by Luis Benitez, set up the process for convening the “ORec 8” for this shared undertaking. The result of this work was the first-ever Confluence Summit, which took place in Denver on January 24, 2018, and was attended by approximately 100 delegates and staff.
Leading up to the summit and at the event, the delegations began to develop a collaborative working document titled “The Colorado Accords.” The document aims to define a collective vision and set of principles in four broad and important areas:
Conservation and stewardship
Education and workforce development
Public health and wellness
The Asheville Confluence Summit will build on this groundbreaking work.
“It is imperative that the Confluence Summits migrate from state to state each year to celebrate each region’s robust outdoor recreation industry ecosystem and economy and continue work on shared principles,” said Luis Benitez, director of the Colorado office of outdoor recreation.
Once ratified, the Accords will remain a living document, open to adjustments and adaptations as best practices are identified and as other states enter the process. Additional states are considering creating their own outdoor recreation-focused offices. According to Benitez, as well as David Knight, who was appointed North Carolina’s Director of Outdoor Industry Recruitment in January, those states are welcome to join the effort, subject to a firm, unambiguous commitment to the sector from the state’s governor and/or legislature and the designation of an outdoor recreation sector leader.
At the heart of REI Co-op is the belief that a life outdoors is a life well-lived and that access to enriching outdoor experiences is something every American has the right to enjoy. To support the first Confluence Summit, the Co-op made funds available to the Colorado Tourism Office so that it could offer travel stipends to delegates who lacked funding. REI has pledged similar support for the event in Asheville, subject to compliance with state and local ethics requirements.
“This gathering brings together thought-leaders from diverse backgrounds–from business, the nonprofit community, government and tribal communities. Given budget realities, many stakeholders could not attend without a travel stipend. We see it as part of the co-op mission to bring together advocates for the outdoors,” said Marc Berejka, REI’s director of government and community affairs.