Action Alert! Help Pass America's Outdoor Recreation Act

The U.S. Senate just re-introduced a package of recreation bills that includes one of our long term policy priorities, the SOAR Act. Learn more about how this important legislation would improve the federal recreational permitting system, and how you can take action to support it.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
March 20, 2023
Action Alert! Help Pass America's Outdoor Recreation Act
Lead image of climbing Shuksan Fisher Chimneys and SE Ridge in the North Cascades. Photo by Nate Derrick.

Last year, we came very close to passing a package of recreation bills called America’s Outdoor Recreation Act (AORA). Many of you took action to urge Congress to pass this legislation because it included one of our long term policy priorities, the Simplifying Access to Outdoor Recreation Act (SOAR Act). If passed, AORA would have improved the unpredictable recreational permitting system that creates barriers for people who want to experience the outdoors through Mountaineers courses and youth programs, as well as other changes to improve outdoor recreation on public lands and waters.

We’re excited to share that America’s Outdoor Recreation Act (AORA) has just been reintroduced - the first step to hopefully passing the bill this Congress. AORA is a bipartisan effort that includes a number of recreation bills that The Mountaineers and our Outdoor Alliance partners worked to develop over the last ten years, including the SOAR Act and components of the Recreation-Not-Red Tape Act.

While we will continue to work with lawmakers to refine the bill text, the package offers policy updates to protect the outdoors, ensure recreation remains sustainable, and provide equitable access to outdoor recreation. With outdoor recreation participation growing, particularly since the pandemic, there are many opportunities to improve how public lands are managed to protect and enhance responsible access to the outdoors.

We’ll be working closely with Washington’s congressional delegation to move this bill forward, but the voices of Mountaineers members make a big difference to help encourage lawmakers to prioritize the outdoors. We’ve made it easy to send a message using our action tool.

Take Action

Read on for more details on why this bill matters to The Mountaineers and your outdoor recreation experience.

Improvements to the Federal Recreational Permitting Process

America’s Outdoor Recreation Act (AORA) includes the Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation (SOAR) Act, a bill that will improve the current inefficient and unpredictable recreational permitting system that creates barriers for people hoping to experience the outdoors through organizations like The Mountaineers. We helped shape this bill and have been advocating for it for seven years because these systems directly impact our volunteer-led trips, courses, and youth programs.

Our staff and volunteers need to secure permits from the federal government to take people out on public lands. 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.

Protect Wilderness Climbing and Canyoning

The ability to safely climb peaks and descend canyons in Wilderness areas is increasingly under threat. The National Park Service is currently re-evaluating the use of fixed anchors (bolts) in Wilderness areas in California and Colorado. How the agency decides to move forward could impact backcountry climbing and canyoning management in places like North Cascades National Park. Fixed anchors are critical tools for navigating technical terrain in wilderness and are essential for rock climbing, mountaineering, backcountry skiing, and canyoning.

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

AORA includes several provisions to give land managers new tools to sustainably manage recreation on federal public lands and waters, including:

  • Requiring the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to conduct Travel Management to designate routes and areas for motorized use. Our partners at Winter Wildlands Alliance have worked on this for years to ensure important areas for human-powered recreation are protected and not designated for motorized use.
  • 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.
  • Improvements to data and technology. AORA would require land management agencies to better collect and report on visitation data, which will help planning and conservation efforts.
  • Creating a recreation inventory which will help agencies plan around protecting recreation. This was a key piece of the Recreation-Not-Red-Tape Act that we worked on for years. Ensuring that we identify where recreation happens on public lands will help us protect important landscapes from potential development conflicts and will be helpful as agencies do land planning.
  • 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.

While many of these changes are deep in the weeds of federal land management, these policies would improve the outdoor recreation experiences we enjoy on public lands. They will help land managers work together to protect outdoor recreation, expand outdoor access, and create new parks for neighborhoods that need them most. They will also help The Mountaineers get new people outside, designate new bike trails, protect bolted climbing, and help land managers collect vital visitor data that shapes how public lands are protected for years to come. The Mountaineers and our Outdoor Alliance partners will continue to work with lawmakers to refine the package in the coming months.

Your voice is critical to moving this package forward. Ask your lawmakers to pass America’s Outdoor Recreation Act and please personalize your letter for the greatest effect.

Take Action

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