RENO, Nev. — With 58 million acres of public land — colored with snow-capped mountains, clear blue alpine lakes, rolling green forests and expansive white playas — Nevada is considered by many to be a sanctuary for outdoor recreation.
In fact, according to the Outdoor Industry Association, the rec industry is an economic powerhouse for the Silver State, spawning a growing number of jobs, consumer spending and tax revenue.
The numbers don’t lie. Nevada’s outdoor recreation industry generates 87,000 jobs — trailing only gaming and healthcare — and $12.6 billion annually in consumer spending, according to the OIA. That’s $2 billion more in economic output and nearly 50,000 more jobs than the Silver State’s mining industry.
Yet, despite being a big piece of the state’s economic backbone, Nevada’s outdoor recreation industry hasn’t had a distinct business voice — until now.
In late September, on National Public Lands Day, a group of Nevada businesses launched the newly formed Nevada Outdoor Business Coalition (NVOBC).
The group advocates for initiatives that improve Nevada’s outdoor recreation economy and protect public lands and waters that support the industry, said Meghan Wolf, environmental activism manager at Patagonia.
“We really want to have a singular business voice advocating and informing about what outdoor recreation means to us,” Wolf, one of eight business representatives who serve on the NVOBC Executive Committee, told the NNBV. “From a Patagonia perspective, we’ve been in Reno since ’96 when we opened our global distribution center, and we’ve grown almost double-digits almost every year in the last two decades. And we think that’s attributed to this outdoor recreation economy — people wanting to go into these parks, wilderness areas and conservation areas.”
There are plenty of those areas in vast Nevada. According to a 2016 report by TIME, nearly 85 percent of the state’s land is owned by the government. Simply put, no state in the U.S. has more public land.
“People can go out and hunt, fish, hike, camp without paying as many fees as you would in a state like Texas, for example, that’s predominantly private land — people have to pay to hunt there,” Wolf said. “There’s a growing population that wants this kind of access, and that’s supported our business. The outdoor recreation has grown and we’ve felt and benefited from that growth.”
Tim Healion, manager of The Laughing Planet Café in Midtown Reno (which is a member of the NVOBC), echoed Wolf’s sentiment. Immersed in Northern Nevada’s food industry for roughly 35 years, Healion said his restaurants are wildly popular with outdoor recreationists.
“We’re fast-casual, healthy food — outdoor people want healthy stuff,” Healion said. “I’ve been making money out of the outdoor group for a long time and acknowledged that.
“So if we got all of these people that are benefiting from it and sharing that economy, let’s organize, let’s get together, and have a shared voice about protecting our interests.”
Zooming in on Northern Nevada, Wolf said Washoe and Douglas counties — “which continue to develop pretty rapidly” — are areas the coalition is focused on protecting and creating spaces for recreation.
After all, the greater Reno area’s access to the great outdoors is a reason why many people or businesses decide to stay or move to the region, she added. According to the OIA, 57 percent of Nevada residents participate in outdoor recreation each year. What’s more, Nevada residents are more likely to participate in day hiking and backpacking than the average American.
Wolf said the coalition is weighing in on a Washoe County public lands bill that would open up development on federal land in the Reno-Sparks region. The proposal, called the Washoe County Economic Development and Conservation Act, would sell off roughly 80,000 acres around the Truckee Meadows for development.
According to Washoe County, “the benefit of the bill is to help support and give options for sustained growth while also maintaining the lifestyle that draws and keeps so many people in our beautiful region.”
The NVOBC and fellow conservationists disagree. Of the 662,000 acres in question, the bill would designate 175,000 acres of wilderness and 83,000 acres of National Conservation Area. The remaining 400,000 acres of wilderness study area would be released back to the state — in other words, the land would no longer be protected, Wolf said.
“They felt that was a fair divide — we didn’t,” Wolf said. “There’s some beautiful areas up there that are kept intact. They view it as not really worth protecting, and we think it is.”
Wolf said the coalition sent a letter to the county commission and congressional delegations in opposition of the Washoe County lands bill.
“It’s not a very well developed plan right now,” Wolf added. “It’s not concrete enough to show how much money that would generate.”
As of mid-October, there were 24 businesses — ranging from outdoor adventure companies to an architecture firm — signed up as Nevada Outdoor Business Coalition members, including 11 from Northern Nevada.
The coalition hopes to have 100 businesses on board by the end of the year, according Healion said.
“Our intent is to have a bit of ‘ammo’ before the legislature gets in session next year (in the spring) so that we can go down there and lobby,” he said. “The earth is getting used, and it’s nice to have a place to go where you’re not looking at 7-Eleven or a housing development or a mine.
“And we need to protect it. There’s a lot more people that want to protect it than the guys with a lot of money that want to put a hole in the ground.”