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Spending half a million dollars to set up a new bureaucracy in Carson City doesn’t sound like a great idea until you recognize that it would be focused on nothing less than the future of our state’s economy, particularly rural Nevada.

Lawmakers recently heard a proposal to establish a Division of Outdoor Recreation. It would operate under the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and its mission would be to promote outdoor recreation across the state.

With vast expanses of public land, the opportunities for tourism and business development are as endless as anyone’s imagination. Nevada is a big state and it will take someone with a big vision to see and steer us toward diversification that goes beyond gambling and mining.

“We know that there are small businesses that want to work in places like Ely and Austin and Winnemucca and Elko – and the urban areas as well,” Tom Clark of the Nevada Outdoor Business Coalition told lawmakers last week. “Maybe you’re an outfitter, maybe you’re a retired individual who loves fishing and always wanted to open up that little shop and be the guy that everybody calls and says ‘Where’s the big one catching right now.’ We want to promote the economic development perspective of this industry.”

The business coalition teamed with the Nevada Conservation Network to develop the proposal.

“Rarely do you see business come together with conservation groups to say ‘We have the same mission, let’s move forward …” said Clark, who was born in Elko and grew up in Tonopah.

“The access to stunning outdoor landscapes – mountains, rivers and trails – are all assets companies use to attract and attain a talented workforce,” Meghan Wolf, an environmental activism manager for outdoor retailer Patagonia, told the Legislature’s Assembly Committee on Government Affairs.

“It’s something that is long overdue,” agreed Assemblywoman Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod, D-Las Vegas.

Calling outdoor recreation “essential to physical and mental health,” Blaine Elliott of the Nevada Conservation League pointed out that growth in this sector outpaces the overall economy. “It’s vitally important that Nevada not fall behind our neighbors.”

The office would work toward obtaining federal grants and bringing together private business coalitions toward the development of outdoor recreation statewide, Clark explained.

There is no overestimating the role outdoor recreation will play in rural Nevada’s future. The region’s gold mines won’t last forever, and the lure of gaming and legalized marijuana will fade as both become more common nationwide. Our state has millions of acres of open space waiting to be become outdoor meccas for all types of recreation, extending Nevada’s attraction as an international tourist destination.

Imagine the mines of today evolving into recreation sites of tomorrow. Nevada’s open pits could one day be converted into recreational sites, repurposed in same way that old railroad lines in other parts of the country have been converted to bike trails.

The types of outdoor recreation are nearly unlimited. The new office would promote both motorized and non-motorized versions.

“I see this as something that everybody can get behind. This will create more jobs and this will create more outdoor recreation for Nevadans,” tribal representative Fawn Douglas told the legislative committee, which includes Assemblyman John Ellison.

“It’s a good bill,” he told the Elko Daily Free Press.

Proponents of the new office say the outdoor recreation industry generates $12.6 billion annually in Nevada — 87,000 jobs with about $4 billion in wages and salaries, and $1.1 billion in state and local tax revenue.

With its position in the heart of Nevada’s outback, Elko could see tremendous benefits from enhanced tourism spending. That’s why we support the creation of Division of Outdoor Recreation at the state level.

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