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America's Great Outdoors session draws crowd

Posted by bwindrope at Jul 07, 2010 02:30 PM |
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The recent Seattle episode of the America's Great Outdoors listening sessions filled the auditorium at Franklin High School before breaking out into classrooms for small group input.

On July 1st, 2010 a large and diverse group of local outdoor recreation enthusiasts gathered at Franklin High School to participate in a listening session. This session was part of an effort by the Obama administration to engage Americans with America’s Great Outdoors (the name of the initiative). Seattle was the fourth community to host one of these, and they will go on all summer around the country. They are called “listening sessions” because they are making an attempt at these gatherings to solicit input on how the federal government can accomplish this goal.

I have to give a shout out to Franklin High School and the students who greeted us at the doors. As you walked up the stairs toward the front door, the many students lining the entrance bowled us over with their enthusiastic welcomes and were super helpful in directing us where to go. Thank you students!

The evening began with the usual greetings and some strong calls for engagement by Jon Jarvis, Director of the National Park Service. He seemed to be taken aback by the spontaneous applause he received after announcing his title. Clearly, Northwesterners love their national parks and those who keep them running for us. Maybe his time as Superintendent of Mt. Rainier helped his popularity. Mr. Jarvis then spoke about the origins of this initiative and expressed the support it has within the White House itself. He explained that the emphasis on youth is the direct result of input by the Obama family.

Also speaking and hosting was Will Shafroth, Deputy Assistant Interior Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks (now there’s a long title). He has the honor, perhaps dubious, of attending each and every listening session around the country. Hope he likes to travel. Stealing the show, however, was a recently graduated student who I believe had been student body president from Franklin High School. He spoke energetically and persuasively about the desire for youth to get outside if certain barriers like transportation and awareness are overcome. Finally, they showed a fancy video of great wilderness areas in America to set the tone for the initiative’s desire to get people connected to them.

After these auditorium speeches, we broke out into classrooms based on some system associated with our name tags. There were maybe 25 people in our room. My experience was quite positive in this breakout session, as it was hosted by Rob Iwamoto, Forest Supervisor for the Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest. WTA has a close and historic relationship with the MBS forest and does a tremendous amount of volunteer work in partnership with their staff. Our note taker did a great job of recording our comments, and went out of his way to make sure the notes expressed our views. This was not the case in a session attended by one of my colleagues here at WTA.

Overall our session was productive. I spoke about the talking points WTA believes are important for this initiative, including proper funding for federal land agencies, federal grant programs like NRTP and LWCF and the vital role of partner organizations like WTA who leverage volunteer time on federal lands. I was happy to discover that there was a WTA volunteer in the room who spoke up about using our website to find hikes and read about trail conditions, and the joy she gets from volunteering on trail projects. Most everyone in my room spoke on behalf of these WTA talking points in one way or another, mainly from a non-motorized perspective.

What do I think will come from this? Well, I appreciate that they are traveling all around the country to gather input, and believe there was strong support for WTA positions at the Seattle listening session. Like with all such things, only time will tell. We hope something more comes from this than a sense of community around these priorities, because that solidarity will not suffice to fulfill an urgent need for action by the federal government. To offer your support for hiking trails and the WTA priorities mentioned above, you can go to and record your comments and even “vote” for or against those listed.