Action Alert! Ask Congress to Improve Recreation on Federal Public Lands

A bipartisan recreation package called the EXPLORE Act was recently introduced in the U.S. House. Great news: the package includes several of our policy priorities to improve the federal recreational permitting system and protect wilderness climbing. Take action to help build support for these important policies.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
December 21, 2023
Action Alert! Ask Congress to Improve Recreation on Federal Public Lands
Alpine climber in the North Cascades. Photo by Nate Derrick.

Outdoor recreation is growing in popularity in Washington state and across the country, and land managers need new tools and resources to sustainably manage recreation on public lands. The Mountaineers and our partners at Outdoor Alliance have been advocating for federal legislation that improves sustainable and equitable access to outdoor recreation. 

Last year, we came very close to passing a bipartisan package of recreation policy bills called America’s Outdoor Recreation Act (AORA). Building on the progress made last year, this year we’ve made significant steps forward: this spring, AORA unanimously passed out of a key Senate committee. And, we’re excited to share that the House recently introduced their version of a bipartisan recreation policy package: the EXPLORE Act

Both the Senate and House packages contain two of our top priorities: legislation to improve the unpredictable federal recreational permitting system that creates barriers to people who want to experience the outdoors through groups like The Mountaineers, and legislation to protect access to wilderness climbing and canyoning.

Amidst uncertain times in Congress, outdoor recreation continues to shine through as a true bipartisan issue. We’re optimistic that these recreation packages will pass Congress, but we need your help. Personalized letters from outdoor enthusiasts like you are critical to ensuring legislative action toward a more sustainable future for the outdoor experiences we cherish. Take a few moments to join our advocacy by writing to your lawmakers in support of the EXPLORE Act and AORA using our action tool.

Take Action

Unpacking the EXPLORE Act

The EXPLORE Act, like AORA, strives to improve outdoor recreation on America’s public lands and waters. It includes many key Mountaineers recreation policy priorities that Outdoor Alliance and our partners have helped develop, and we are continuing to work with lawmakers to refine these proposals. You can dive into the details of the EXPLORE Act in Outdoor Alliance’s recent letter to House lawmakers on the bill, but here are the pieces we’re most excited about.

Improvements to the Federal Recreational Permitting Process

The Simplifying Outdoor Access to Recreation (SOAR) Act would improve the unpredictable recreational permitting system that creates barriers for people who want to experience the outdoors through Mountaineers courses and youth programs. Not only is the permit process complex and labor-intensive to navigate, but it actively limits our ability to expand our programs and introduce more people to the wonders of the outdoors.

This is fundamentally an issue of equity, as many people feel more comfortable experiencing the outdoors with a group like The Mountaineers. You can learn more about this issue in our spring 2021 Conservation Currents article in Mountaineer magazine. We’re thrilled that the SOAR Act is included in both AORA and the EXPLORE Act. 

Protections for Wilderness Climbing and Canyoning

The ability to safely climb peaks and descend canyons in Wilderness Areas is increasingly under threat.  Last month, the National Park Service (NPS) and the Forest Service (USFS) released draft policies that would classify fixed anchors – critical tools for navigating technical terrain in wilderness – as “installations” under the Wilderness Act of 1964. That means that both new and existing bolts, slings, and pitons in Wilderness Areas would be prohibited until each anchor can be individually reviewed by land managers. How the agencies decide to move forward would impact backcountry climbing and canyoning management in places like the North Cascades. Read more about this issue in our recent blog about the draft NPS and USFS plans.

Through the Protect America’s Rock Climbing Act (PARC Act), AORA would clarify that climbing and the use, placement, and replacement of climbing anchors are an “allowable activity” within Wilderness areas, subject to reasonable rules and regulations to protect wilderness character. The bill would protect the status quo: it would not expand bolted climbing in Wilderness areas, since these areas deserve special levels of protection. The language protects climbers’ ability to sparingly place and replace bolts with a hand drill only, and does not limit land managers’ current ability to restrict climbing when necessary to protect natural or cultural resources.

Improvements to Sustainable and Equitable Recreation Management

The EXPLORE Act and AORA also include several provisions to give land managers new tools to sustainably manage recreation on federal public lands and waters, including:

  • The Biking on Long-Distance Trails Act (BOLT), which would help identify and designate long-distance mountain biking trails on public lands.
  • Making the Federal Interagency Council on Outdoor Recreation (FICOR) permanent. FICOR is a council that helps land managers coordinate and focuses on improving access to nature and expanding outdoor recreation opportunities.
  • Codifying the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership (ORLP) program, which provides grant funding for urban areas to develop green spaces and outdoor access, with priority given to economically disadvantaged areas and neighborhoods without existing outdoor recreation opportunities.

Take Action

Whether you’re a Mountaineers leader, avid wilderness climber, or an outdoor enthusiast who wants to improve recreation management on federal lands, you have a story to tell that can translate into compelling advocacy for public lands and the outdoor experience. Before your next outdoor adventure in Washington’s great outdoors, take a few minutes to raise your voice for the critical recreation policies in AORA and the EXPLORE Act that will help ensure and sustain transformative outdoor opportunities for future generations of Mountaineers.

Take Action

We appreciate working with our partners at Outdoor Alliance and Access Fund on this important advocacy.

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Oliver Moffat
Oliver Moffat says:
Dec 22, 2023 08:01 AM

What about car-free access to the outdoors for people without cars? Traffic jams and overflowing parking areas are a common site in our recreational areas.

Conor Marshall
Conor Marshall says:
Jan 03, 2024 10:03 AM

Thank you for your comment, Oliver. We agree that transportation is a major barrier to accessing the outdoors. The Mountaineers supports another bill in Congress that would help address this issue: the Transit to Trails Act. This bill would create a federal grant program to fund transportation projects that connect more communities to public lands: this would help local efforts like King County’s Trailhead Direct program, which coordinates public transit to popular hiking trails in the Mountains to Sound Greenway. The Mountaineers also plans to add additional tools to our website to help members coordinate carpooling and reduce our organization’s impact on the environment and trailheads.