Twice a year, Salt Lake City explodes with 25-40,000 people involved in the outdoor industry. Outdoor Retailer, the trade show for the outdoor gear industry, is a week of high energy pitching, buying, trading, selling, and everything in between. But, as a hiker who cares about the public land I walk in, I was most stoked to see this show’s opening speaker: Sally Jewell, current Secretary of the Interior and former REI CEO. After a night of partying with hikertrash, I still had no qualms about waking up at 5:30 am to see the woman who leads the future of hiking.
As Secretary of the Interior, Ms. Jewell is now the head of the government agencies that manage the places I hike—she’s the honcho who oversees the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management. Since Ms. Jewell was nominated for the position nine months ago, her job has differed significantly from her business days at REI—government shutdowns and sequestrations are among the new challenges of her position. Nonetheless, Ms. Jewell is adamant about maintaining public lands for the future by cultivating a love of the outdoors in the next generation.
Ms. Jewell isn’t the only person who has noticed that on many trails, it’s more common to see grey-haired babyboomers than young’uns: kids and millennial like me are becoming a rarity in the outdoors. Quoting Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, Ms. Jewell emphasized that people who love the outdoors (including the outdoor industry) have a responsibility to engage young people to appreciate public land and open space—to get more kids playing in and valuing the outdoors.
Programs that get youth outdoors—either by recreating, volunteering, learning in outdoor classrooms, or working seasonal ranger jobs—build an appreciation for open space that lasts a lifetime. In this spirit, the Department of the Interior is launching a program Ms. Jewell called the “Civilian Conservation Corps 2.0,” based on the 1930s model that employed 250,000 young Americans to build trails, roads, and other infrastructure that we still use today. Working with non-profits and the outdoor industry, the Department of the Interior is aiming to get young people outdoors again and building a connection with our country’s open space.
Public land, Ms. Jewell noted, can also be subject to the whims of politics. Outdoor enthusiasts need to express our love of public lands to elected officials and make sure that the people with power value open space, including places to hike. As an example, the Secretary explained how during the Cabinet nomination process, senators were eager to learn of the economic benefit of public land and outdoor recreation to states—equaling 6.1 million jobs in a $600 million dollar outdoor industry. To gain political traction, Ms. Jewell argues that outdoor enthusiasts of all types need to show solidarity and support for keeping wildlands wild: hikers shouldn’t be judgmental about who cares about conserving wild places—hunter, anglers, and ranchers can be great advocates for the outdoors, too.
Ms. Jewell is an inspiration—not just because she is a powerful woman who cares about the outdoors, but also because of her dedication to the future of wild places. Although the our public lands are subject to the whims of government and the changing values of youth, Ms. Jewell reasoned that as outdoor enthusiasts, we can work together to ensure that public land will always be places for peace and fun.