The Great Outdoors Initiative Comes to L.A.

On July 8th CORBA volunteers attended a “listening session” with such dignitaries as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Secretary of the Department of the Interior Ken Salazar, E.P.A. Administrator Lisa Jackson, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality Nancy Sutley, Undersecretary of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Harris Sherman and Asst. Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy.  Also represented were Los Angeles City and County department heads, and leaders of hundreds of NGO’s all gathered for this“listening session” by Obama’s environmental “dream team” on-stage.
Each panel member spoke about the challenges in providing recreation, conservation and appreciation of the great outdoors. The speakers discussed how Los Angeles is continually misrepresented as the capital of sprawl, a car culture, a place lacking in the great outdoors. Many Angelenos already enjoy the great open spaces that surround us in the San Gabriels, Santa Monicas, the Arroyo, the LA River and Griffith Park. Most people in the city, however, are unaware of just how much open space is so close by.

An inspiring video outlining the challenges and achievements of the nation’s public lands was shown. The video is available on the DOI web site.

In the audience, local government officials sat side by side with advocates, educators, non-profit directors and conservationists to share their experiences and express their views to the federal representatives. The room was packed to capacity, with over 800 people in attendance.

These high-level Administration officials and White House Cabinet members listened to comments from the audience for about an hour, after which a more intimate opportunity for feedback was offered by way of break-out sessions.

During the public comments, many pointed out the noticeable absences from the panel: Transportation and Education.
Many contended, and CORBA agrees, that getting people outdoors can be achieved by either bringing the people to the outdoors by providing a  better public transport network that reaches the surrounding open space as well as existing city parks; and walkable, livable streets where bicycle transportation and recreation is encouraged and welcomed.

The second option is bringing the outdoors to the people. This is exemplified by grass-roots movements like Ciclovia where several city streets will be closed on September 12th to create a one-day 13 mile long playground for riding, walking and just being outside. The initiative seeks a better balance in zoning and utilization of park land, development and infrastructure: building more livable communities. It encourages urban parkland development and recreation.

Much was said by panelists and public about the need to protect natural resources. In CORBA’s opinion not enough was said about the need for access to those protected resources as recreational opportunities. During breakout sessions CORBA board member Steve Messer brought up the need for alternatives to wilderness designations which exclude user groups and make public land more inaccessible for the majority. Access and conservation are synergistic in many ways: when people can’t or don’t experience these lands, they don’t develop a sense of stewardship or understand the need to conserve.

CORBA’s mission includes preservation, stewardship and access for mountain bikers and the trail systems they ride. Our Youth Adventures, Introduction to Mountain Bike Skills clinics, and Trail Crew programs give people a sense of those values.

Messer also brought up the fact that bicycling is a life-long health-promoting recreational activity. He talked about the Interscholastic Cycling League and the collateral long-term changes it will bring about. Unlike more traditional high school team sports, high school mountain bikers are much more likely to continue to participate in this health-promoting activity well beyond their high school years. He stressed the need to support youth programs, high school programs, and trail access for all users in our City Parks (bringing the outdoors to the people).

For such a diverse group, the breakout session in which CORBA participated went very smoothly, with all the participants tending to agree on most things: The need for funding; The inclusion of alternative transportation; The need to coordinate agencies; The need to bring the classroom outside. Equestrian representatives talked about their youth programs in Compton that allow kids the opportunity to experience a ranching lifestyle. A science teacher talked about his inability to take kids out into the field because of budget cuts. Others referred to “every child left inside, AKA no child left behind.” Other salient points were expressed: the lack of communication and cooperation between government agencies; the need for federal governments to work more at the local level while allowing locals to have a bigger hand in managing lands.

In all, the process went well and–at least in the breakout session CORBA attended–all felt they were heard, and all had something to say. There was no animosity between any of the groups present, from the Sierra Club, to CORBA, to the equestrian community, OHV community, to educators and local government representatives.  If anything, there seemed to be a subtle acknowledgement that all those present have a love of the outdoors, despite the differences in how we experience it.

The goal of this initiative is to produce a set of recommendations expected to be ready in November. All of the comments were recorded and will be considered. The recommendations that result from these listening sessions will help shape policy that will see us through the next hundred years of management of public lands.

Though the term “mountain bike” is relatively new, bicycles are an integral part of America’s history, and have been used in the outdoors since the late 1800’s. Mountain bikers are now part of that history and deserve the same respect when it comes to decisions about outdoor recreation. We need to make sure that we are considered in those decisions.

For those who were not at the listening session, you can make comments online at http://ideas.usda.gov/ago/ideas.nsf/. You can also vote down or vote up the comments of others, or respond to others’ comments. It is a lively discussion, and currently there are anti-mountain biking comments that have been voted down. We need to flood their system with comments supporting mountain biking and access.

The initiative asks individuals and organizations to express what they see as the Challenges, What Works, The Federal Government’s Role and the Tools needed to make it better. Submit your comments and be heard.

CORBA’s preliminary thoughts (our official statement will be made public soon):

Challenges: We face an obesity epidemic and declining participation in outdoor activities. We have mismanaged lands for hundreds of years, allowing sprawl, poorly designed cities and a lack of open space. We need to find, connect to, allow access to and protect public lands. Bicycles, both on and off-road, are a part of that solution.
What Works: We have found that getting access to trails, whether in mountains or city parks, encourages park use and outdoor participation. Mountain Bikes blur transport and recreation lines, and entice people out of doors with healthy exercise disguised as fun. Cycling should be encouraged in all its forms.
Federal Role: The federal government needs to expand trail networks and access for everyone. It should utilize alternative land protection designations that allow for more recreation and more jobs while protecting the land, instead of wilderness designations which by their nature are exclusionary and decrease opportunity.
The Tools: The NEPA and CEQA processes must be overhauled and streamlined; alternative protective designations to wilderness, and establishing better ratios of trail miles to user populations on federal lands. Fund projects at the local level. Fund jobs that expand access to open spaces. The NPS needs to adopt the proposed 2008 rule change (36 CFR 4.30, Federal Register E8-29892) that makes it easier for NPS unit superintendents to open off road facilities to mountain bikes. The current rule is onerous, burdensome and expensive. It deters NPS units from offering off-road cycling opportunities.
Please submit your comments, or take those we’ve suggested and modify them as you see fit.
Comments can be submitted right now at http://ideas.usda.gov/ago/ideas.nsf/. You can have your say and it will be counted.

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