By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
NORTH CONWAY – New Hampshire’s outdoor community is coming together to network, advocate and educate visitors through a new membership-based nonprofit.
On Wednesday, state leaders helped to officially launch the Granite Outdoor Alliance https://www.graniteoutdooralliance.org/ which looks to leverage the state’s outdoor industry which employs about 79,000.
It comes at a time when the state is seeing unprecedented growth in outdoor use due to COVID-19 and a bump in new residents due to urban flight. Memberships in the nonprofit begin at $30 for individuals and the scale goes up to corporate fees.
The hope is to get everyone from land trusts, equipment providers, individual hikers, and other recreation interests to work together in one voice to help promote the $8.7 billion a year industry.
The group, whose board includes representatives Timberland and NEMO Equipment, along with volunteers for the White Mountain Trail Collective, will work on issues from workforce housing to how to deal with litterbugs at Diana’s Baths and park in the middle of traffic in Franconia Notch.
State Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, an avid hiker, was among leaders who called the outdoor industry integral to the state’s character culture and environment.
He said workforce housing was among the issues at the State House that are impediments to fully developing a year-round workforce for the industry and that while there is $5 million in the current budget to allow housing developers to get grants and a likely resurrection of a bill to deal with communities who throw up roadblocks in housing density, he said he saw the issue as “absolutely integral” to the work of the nonprofit.
He congratulated outdoor entrepreneur Tyler Ray of North Conway, principal of Backyard Concept, an advocacy firm based in North Conway, for getting the alliance launched. The first president of the organization is Rudy Glocker, owner of Burgeon Outdoor in Lincoln who was also on the virtual call.
Attending by video was Congressman Chris Pappas, D-NH, and appearing live on the call were Peter Clark, representing U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, Glocker, and Taylor Caswell, commissioner of the state Department of Business and Economic Affairs.
Caswell said the alliance is a “big step” to showcasing the state as a “World-class outdoor recreation center” close to many major cities in the United States.
Bolstering the efforts, he said, is the state’s plans to create an office of outdoor recreation within his department and the hiring of an outdoor director, likely in the first quarter of 2021. Caswell said the plan to develop the office and get a director were sidelined by the pandemic.
Ray said one of the Alliance’s top priorities will be a coordinated “outreach” effort to visitors on everything from education on conduct on the trails to holding events, either virtual or in-person, that educate the outdoor community. The first event to be held, likely virtually, Nov. 6 at noon would be for members to learn about the new Great American Outdoors Act, which permanently funds public lands and was signed by President Donald Trump in August with bipartisan support.
Pappas, who with Shaheen supported that effort, said the effort will help support the growth of the state’s outdoor economy.
Reading a letter from Shaheen, Clark said that the Alliance is a “smart move for our economy,” whose culture and identity are inextricably tied to the state’s varied outdoors.
The COVID-19 experience has been “a double-edged sword” for the state, the website reads, which has exposed issues the state faces including broadband access in rural areas, disregard for the environment, and lack of affordable housing.
“The time to band together and recalibrate toward a responsible outdoor economy is long overdue. That time is now,” it states.
Its hashtag is #Adventurefree.