Let’s start with April. Between the time this column is being written and the end of April, we can expect major action in Congress on a new surface transportation bill. As an industry based on road travel, the park and recreation industries have a great stake in the outcomes of this legislation. Everything from roads, bridges and tunnels construction and repair projects to travel information systems to reduce congestion, to scenic byways, recreation trails and mass transit for urban areas are usually contained in this legislation.
Two bills are at the heart of this issue. In the House of Representatives, H.R. 7, the American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act and in the US Senate, S. 1813, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) are the two vehicles that will most likely eventually form the new surface transportation program for a number of years.
The existing federal suface transportation law, know as SAFTEA-LU ( Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users) funded and authorized federal transportation spending. It was signed into law by President George W. Bush in August, 2005, and expired as the end of September, 2009. Unable to come to an agreement on spending levels and bogged down in controversy over earmarks (this legislation is a major place for Members of Congress to bring “home the bacon” in the form of federal funding for their local districts and states), Congress has renewed its funding several times since its expiration date. The current extension runs out on March 31, 2012 so either we are looking at another extension or Congressional action by the time this column appears in print. Typically the legislation is a six year program but there is considerable discussion about a shorter time frame for the next transportation bill.
On the Senate side, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), makes several major changes to SAFETEA-LU. Among the changes of special concern to recreation interests are MAP-21’s lumping of the Recreational Trails Program, the Safe Routes to School Program, Transportation Enhancements (including Welcome Center funding) into a single category of “allowed” uses of state apportionments. The Recreational Trails Coalition, a key promoter of inclusion of trails money are concerned that this approach will provide little or no funding for recreational trails. Trails are a key component of outdoor recreation, being used for numerous activities from hiking to snowmobiling.
Of even greater importance to the RV park and campground industry, and to the RV industry, is the continuation of the Scenic Byways Program. The Senate MAP-21 bill cuts earmarked funding for specific byways, but continues support for 150 existing National Scenic Byways and All-American Roads and would allow additional designations. On the House side, H.R. 7, The American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act, would change transportation programs in several ways, including reducing federal surface transportation programs from 100+ to about 30 through consolidation and elimination – including repeal of the National Scenic Byways Program. The bill would also allow states more control over their highway funding by granting them more project approval authority and eliminating requirements for funding non-highway activities; and the bill would also streamline projects by cutting red tape and setting deadlines for federal assessment of projects. Since the bill was made public in mid-February, an effort led by the American Recreation Coalition and scenic byways supporters have had some success. President Obama has threatened to veto the bill and as a result of the President’s concern, House Speaker John Boehner has postponed any House action of the bill.
ARVC: National Industry Issues Conference
Moving on to May, ARVC has announced that it will be re-introducing the National Issues Conference on May 8 and 10 in Washington, DC. This important event brings together park industry leaders and their Members of Congress for discussions and lobbying on issues of importance to the park industry.
One of the Online Pokies key issues expected to be on the agenda for meetings will be the issue of Congressional action to secure a reversal of a recent Justice Department ruling that portable pool lifts were not acceptable in meeting ADA requirements.
For the park industry to have an impact in Washington, it’s important that all states be represented at this conference. As I like to say, the world is run by the people who show up. If there are national objectives that would make the park industry more successful, then the park industry has to show up and pursue its objectives. If the industry doesn’t stand up for itself, who will?
National Travel & Tourism Week
In another important May event, the annual National Travel & Tourism Week is set for May 5 – May 13. This nationwide event focuses businesses, local communities, counties and states on the key economic role played by the travel and tourism industries.
Led by local convention and visitor bureaus, travel and tourism agencies and hundreds of businesses, the week provides numerous events locally to call attention to the industries.
RV parks and campgrounds play an important economic role in hundreds of communities. It’s always a great thing when parks are involved in this week-long program. It’s a great time to remind employees and guests of the vital role travel and tourism plays in the life of many communities, to thank the communities for their support and to encourage expansion of that support.
National Tourism Week began when the U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution in 1983 designating the week to be celebrated in May. At the time, in a White House ceremony, President Ronald Reagan signed a Presidential Proclamation urging citizens to observe the week with “the appropriate ceremonies and activities.”
Since its establishment, the U.S. travel community has collectively marked the event in a number of creative ways, from staging local rallies and conducting media outreach to securing proclamations and resolutions from local legislative bodies.
And then June – Great Outdoors Month 2012
A key recreation industry event each year is Great Outdoors Month, featuring a month long series of events focusing public attention on the benefits and excitement of the outdoors. One of the centerpieces of the month-long celebration is Get Outdoors Day on June 9. Great Outdoors Month 2012 is expected to be proclaimed by President Obama and all 50 Governors. Great Outdoors Month partners – 50+ public and private sector organizations – will work to get the nation’s top elected officials personally involved in outdoor activities this June.
As in past years, there will be thousands of events across the nation during Great Outdoors Month – from National Trails Day to National Marina Day to the Great American Backyard Camp-Out. GOM organizers anticipate a record number of National Great Outdoors Day sites.
Get Outdoors Day is June 9. Great opportunity for RV parks and campgrounds across America to create special community events in the parks – fishing contests, hikes, open houses, nature programs, bike rides, for example – and encourage your neighbors to get outdoors. Be sure to check in with your state campground association to see what activities may be planned for Great Outdoors Month in your state and area.
Let’s note here that the Great American Backyard Camp Out was an idea developed at the 2009 spring meeting of the Campground Association Management Professionals (CAMP) organization. The idea has taken root and is spreading across America. National Tourism Week, Great Outdoors Month and Get Outdoors Day are terrific marketing opportunities for parks to develop new events during a somewhat off time period. These events can help raise the visibility of a park in their community. Park owners can promote these special periods within the their community – to civic groups, church groups, and others. Partnering with scouts, schools, youth clubs and other similar groups to share these special times can be an important yet mostly overlooked opportunity.